An election monitor said a Funcinpec member organized an anti-Sam Rainsy Party rally in Banteay Meanchey province Monday, as CPP leaders defended the party in televised interviews on issues of border disputes and workers’ salaries in the final week before general elections.
A monitor with the Committee for Free and Fair Elections said the approximately 200 protesters were organized and directed by Vanh Yutharath, a former Sam Rainsy Party member who defected to the royalist party.
“They want to defame the Sam Rainsy Party because here the party is very popular,” Comfrel provincial President Im Sophea said by telephone.
The demonstrators shouted that Sam Rainsy was a cheat and a dictator as they marched through Mongkol Borei and Serei Saophoan districts. Along the way, they burned hats and T-shirts bearing the opposition party logo.
It was the second such protest in two days.
Following Monday’s protest, the Sam Rainsy Party filed a defamation complaint with a commune election committee in Banteay Meanchey.
Parties are locked in a fierce battle for six seats in the northwest province.
“Funcinpec is afraid that the Sam Rainsy Party will win seats in the province, and that is why they do this trick,” said Lim Kim Hour, the party’s secretary-general in the province.
Nhep Bunchin, Funcinpec’s first candidate in Banteay Meanchey, denied the allegations. “I don’t want to attack the party which is also a democratic party,” he said.
In an unrelated incident, nine Funcinpec activists were detained for a night last week in an Oddar Meanchey province military camp. The activists were detained at about 10 pm Thursday in Ampel commune, Banteay Ampel district, because they had been excessively drinking wine, said the legal director of the provincial election committee, Hang Mang, on Monday. They were released Friday morning.
A complaint was lodged with the commune election committee and informally resolved, Hang Mang said.
“It wasn’t political intimidation. The military forces didn’t understand about the election law, that is why they abused the law,” he said.
Hang Mang added that the activists failed to inform the commune committee of their activities.
“Both sides were a little bit wrong together,” he said.
In other election news, Minister of Cabinet Sok An defended the CPP’s history on border issues and said the country had not lost territory to Vietnam.
“This is a vital problem,” Sok An said in a interview on Bayon television Monday. “The government never offered out land to another country.”
Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh, speaking in Takeo province on Friday, accused the government of losing land to invading Vietnamese in border provinces and said the government had forfeited at least two islands to its eastern neighbor.
Sok An insisted that the government was nearing agreement on border issues with Vietnam, as well as Laos and Thailand, and that it would not concede territory.
“We have never received any reports of losing territory,” he said.
Also, in a separate television interview on Apsara Monday, Minister of Social Affairs Ith Sam Heng said royalist and opposition party promises to increase factory worker wages would be impossible to keep. Leaders from the two parties have pledged to raise wages to around $70 per month.
“I would like to inform the people that this is the cheating promises in order to gain votes for the election,” Ith Sam Heng said.
“The CPP will raise the salaries based on the national economy. If we arbitrarily want the factory to raise wages, we eliminate the work because the factory will shut down,” he said.
Also, the founder of Beehive Radio is planning a protest Friday against Custom and Excise Department officials he claims are withholdng broadcast equipment.
Mam Sonando said he raised money through listeners to buy the equipment, which would increase the station’s frequency from 1 to 5 kilowatts and drastically increase its reception range.
Customs officials have intentionally failed to finish the paperwork to release the equipment from storage at Phnom Penh International Airport, he said.
“The CPP doesn’t want my station to increase the frequency, because my station broadcasts true information, which affects the party,” he said.
“The department has abused the law, it must be responsible before the listeners,” he said.
Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema said he would not intervene. “I’m sorry, I can’t offer permission because this season is the election campaign,” he said.
Pen Siman, director of the Customs and Excise Department, could not be reached for comment.
On Radio Free Asia on Sunday, Sam Rainsy denied that his party was scheduled to set up a coalition with the CPP after the election.
But Om Yentieng, an adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen, told Radio Free Asia on Sunday that he met recently with Sam Rainsy, Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Son Chhay and other opposition party officials. “I reserve the right not to tell the meaning in detail,” he said.
Today, Sam Rainsy will campaign in Sihanoukville and CPP President Chea Sim will inaugurate a pagoda in Phnom Penh’s Dangkao district. Prince Ranariddh is not scheduled to make any public appearances today, a party spokeswoman said.
(Additional reporting by Nhem Chea Bunly)