Local Political Opposition Alleges Police Intimidation in Ratanakkiri

Lumphat district, Ratanakkiri – Police here are said to have repeatedly attempted to obtain lists of opposition CNRP supporters and election candidates in what local politicians and a rights worker described as veiled threats. Police, however, said it was a means to maintain security.

“I think there will be a lot of cases like this before voting. In Lumphat, in other districts—in the whole country, too,” said provincial Licadho coordinator Chew Sophea.

Armed soldiers drive past the CNRP’s headquarters in Phnom Penh last year. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

On Friday, a Chey Uddom commune police officer visited the home of the CNRP’s commune chief candidate, Ngait Mao, newly selected to run in local-level elections being held nationwide in June, to ask for a list of CNRP candidates, police and local officials said.

“As far as I can tell, they were hoping to frighten me,” said Mr. Mao, 55, in an interview in O’Kan village on Monday.

He is standing in the only commune in the district that currently has no opposition commune council members.

The commune police officer, Mao Lat, “wanted to know the names of all the people in the CNRP in O’Kan village, and in the commune,” Mr. Mao said.

When Mr. Mao asked for an explanation, Mr. Lat said “his boss had told him to go get the names” and explained that it was for the purpose of “maintaining security,” Mr. Mao said.

Mr. Mao refused to let Mr. Lat write down the names or take a photograph of the list.

“I said if your boss made you come—well, I will have to ask my boss first,” he said, and called Svin Jwel, the deputy CNRP operations director in Lumphat, who said the names of candidates wouldn’t be available until they were formally announced next month.

Approached at his commune police post on Monday, Mr. Lat confirmed that he had shown up at Mr. Mao’s house to obtain the names and information of CNRP candidates.

“There’s no problem here,” he said. “It’s easier to manage the candidates this way.”

Asked to clarify what he meant by managing candidates, he repeatedly changed his story. At one point he said it was about security: “If there’s a problem, it’s easier to know which candidates were involved, and who was involved.”

Mr. Lat said there were four parties with candidates standing for commune elections in Chey Uddom, but that he had only tried to get the names of the CNRP’s candidates.

Asked what problems he anticipated, Mr. Lat would not answer. Later, he said he was simply following orders. He also said he was collecting names just in case higher-level officials wanted them at some point.

It’s not the first attempt police have made to acquire the names of opposition officials in the area, said Mr. Jwel, who, like Mr. Mao, thinks that police were trying to scare CNRP officers and supporters.

“In Lbaing, on the 9th [of January], I had a meeting to plan our support for those who were standing for commune council,” Mr. Jwel said. “Local police wanted the information of everyone who attended the meeting. They wanted the list. I let them join the meeting, but I wouldn’t give them the list.”

Police tried again four days later, Mr. Jwel said, in another meeting in Kaleng commune, and he again refused.

Mr. Sophea, of Licadho, said fear tactics were particularly effective in Ratanakkiri, where there were many people—particularly among the indigenous population—who had little education and did not know their rights.

“You just mention police, or that they could go to prison, and they’re frightened,” he said.

In Mr. Mao’s case, the police visit would not go unnoticed by other people in Chey Uddom, Mr. Sophea said.

“This case hasn’t scared him, but it will scare the people around him.”

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