The US State Department has demanded that the Cambodian government step up efforts to investigate what the US is characterizing as a recent increase in “politically motivated violence, killings, intimidation and harassment” ahead of next year’s general elections.
“The United States is concerned that this climate of violence in Cambodia is growing without, to our knowledge, serious governmental investigations or prosecutions,” a State Department statement read.
In early September, a Sam Rainsy Party activist from Kompong Cham province was fatally shot in what the human rights group Adhoc is calling a political killing. And Koul Panha, director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said harassment is continuing—particularly of officials from smaller, recently formed political parties trying to set up provincial offices.
“Some new political parties tried to set up contact people and they have faced problems with local authorities,” Koul Panha said.
Comfrel has met trouble while trying to set up election-related meetings in rural towns, Koul Panha said, most recently in Preah Vihear province.
“Some local authorities have their own ideas about how to control political power, but they must understand freedom and the meaning of democracy. This is 2002,” he said.
The July 2003 elections are seen by many as a significant benchmark for the democratic process under Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government.
Already, two general elections—held in 1993 and 1998—have been panned by pro-democracy critics. Both local and international election monitors have also questioned the fairness of the February commune council elections, with some blaming the spate of pre-election killings—some 20 members of the opposition and royalist parties died in the months leading up to the ballot—for poisoning the election process.
Adhoc claims that at least seven Sam Rainsy Party or Funcinpec activists have been killed since the commune elections.
Most recently, opposition party member Hean Sean was killed by three men dressed in military uniforms Sept 6 in Kompong Cham province’s Tbong Khmum district.
Adhoc said it was a political killing—a claim that Koul Panha backs up.
“This recent killing really was related to the election process. We’re very upset as it threatens the environment of free elections,” he said.
The government has repeatedly claimed that none of the killings that took place either before or after the elections were politically motivated and instead blamed personal disputes or robberies on the deaths.
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