Mon, Jul 21, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Thousands monitor Cambodian election to ensure fair poll

AFP , PHNOM PENH

More than 30,000 police and 150,000 monitors are being deployed across Cambodia to ensure the July 27 national elections live up to international expectations for a free and fair poll.

Political assassinations, violence and intimidation have marred previous ballots, but independent monitors say security for this year's vote is vastly improved.

"The view is security has improved over the last election," Hang Puthea, director of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (NICFEC), said in regards to last year's local district elections.

"Last year we worried about security 80 percent of the time but now we worry 60 percent of the time -- but that worry is still over whether killings and violence will still happen."

National police chief Hok Lundy vowed to ensure security but declined to say how many police and troops had been deployed to the 16,000 polling booths across the country. Other sources said the figure was 30,000 men.

"Police are guarding every corner in the cities and communes [clusters of villages], we are ready to solve anything bad that could happen at any time," he said.

The National Election Committee is also sending our directives to village chiefs to warn they must remain neutral and refrain from pushing people to vote for their favured candidate.

Previous polling days in Cambodia have always passed off without serious incident, but the run-up and aftermath to the vote have invariably been tainted by violence.

The 1993 elections that marked this country's emergence from communism under Vietnamese occupation were marred by violence and an ongoing civil war which ended in mid-1998 shortly before the second national ballot took place.

That election was judged free and fair but the post-electoral period was rocked by unrest as political parties jostled to form a coalition government.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, who is widely expected to retain power, is desperate to ensure these polls are declared "free and fair" in a result that would legitimize his rule and ensure foreign aid continues to roll in.

NICFEC, the human rights group Adhoc, the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, and the Cambodian Youth Council make up the main group of local election monitors with nearly 29,000 observers.

A further 403 international monitors from Asian and Western countries -- including the US, Australia and Europe -- have been accredited while political parties have appointed another 120,000 people to scrutinize the poll.

Co-interior minister Sar Kheng confirmed the EU Election Observer Mission's finding that since the official campaign began on June 26 eight people had been killed in circumstances that indicated there was a political motive.

The EU mission, which includes 120 observers, has said only that it will issue a report after polling day, but sources close to the group have said the electoral climate is better than previous polls.

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