Sat, Jul 19, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Rights group seeks end to intimidation ahead of Cambodian national election

AFP , PHNOM PENH

US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) yesterday urged the Cambodian government to suspend officials found using threats and intimidation in order to secure votes in the upcoming national polls.

The rights watchdog said village and commune chiefs, nearly all representatives of the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP), were threatening supporters of opposition parties "with violence, expulsion from their village and denial of access to community resources."

"Threats range from being rejected for village rice distribution to having land confiscated for voting for the opposition. Intimidation is directed at political party members, local activists and voters," HRW senior legal adviser James Ross said in a statement

"While the ruling CPP has used violence in previous elections, in the current campaign it appears to have chosen a more subtle strategy to coerce villagers from voting for their preference," he said.

He added Cambodia must "swiftly suspend officials who are responsible for such threats and election-law violations."

Twenty-two political parties will contest the July 27 Cambodian polls amid intense international pressure on the government to deliver free and fair elections.

Since the official campaign began on June 26, authorities and independent election monitors have singled out eight killings where evidence suggested the motive was political and further investigations were warranted.

While the killings were significant, local and international observers say there has been much less violence in this campaign when compared with the killings which marred the lead-up to last year's local district elections.

"There does appear to be a welcome decrease in the levels of overt political violence," Ross said.

But he added this did necessarily translate into greater respect for basic civil and political rights.

He said a vote-buying campaign in the northwestern town of Siem Reap had forced villages into renouncing support for other parties in return for cash. If the CPP loses, the cash has to be repaid.

Another wave of intimidation was launched against the opposition Sam Rainsy Party in central Kompong Cham province.

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