Police in Svay Rieng province on Saturday shut down a training session for 16 observers registered to monitor this Sunday’s commune elections, saying it had not been sanctioned by authorities, according to an organizer.
May Tith, community facilitator for the Coalition of Cambodian Farmers Community, said the training was about to begin at a house in Romeas Hek district’s Ampil commune when commune police arrived and said his organization did not have permission to hold the sessions. A second session for 16 more observers due to be held on Sunday also did not go ahead.
Mr. Tith said he had informed the commune chief of the plans, and the police had probably been confused about the content of the training.
“We don’t do anything related to political tendencies, but they had an idea that we might…come to train something about politics,” he said.
“We showed them the related teaching material—lessons about observation—but they still didn’t agree to listen to us,” he added.
He said he had spoken with district police chief Sam Sam Ol, who asked for provincial or district-level permission letters, without which the sessions could not commence.
Contacted on Sunday, Mr. Sam Ol declined to comment before hanging up.
Mr. Tith said they hoped to reach a compromise so the training could be held in time for the June 4 vote.
“If they don’t agree, we will conduct the training anyway, because if we don’t train them they will not be able to observe,” Mr. Tith said.
Sam Kuntheamy, executive director of the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia, said he planned to meet with the National Election Committee (NEC) today and would ask them to issue a notice to the police to allow the training to proceed.
Rights group Licadho was also investigating, he added.
NEC spokesman Hang Puthea said he only knew “one side of the situation,” but if organizers had not contacted authorities then “this is a problem of the training group.”
“Material must be sent to be checked by the authority. By law, the NGO has to have rights to have the activity first,” he said.
As of Wednesday—when observer registration closed—56,817 Cambodian observers had registered, according to Mr. Puthea. Another 94 international observers were listed. The registration deadline for foreigners is Tuesday.
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