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Monday, June 04, 2012

Observers: Cambodian Vote Improved but Problems Remain

PHNOM PENH - Cambodia's ruling party won the majority of seats in local elections nationwide Sunday, but observers say the vote was not without its problems.

Even going into Sunday's election, there was little doubt which party would come out on top. But critics say the dominance of the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) has been aided by past irregularities at the polling booth. This year was no different.

 Mu Sochua is a lawmaker with the opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP). Early results suggest the SRP lost ground this election, even in its traditional strongholds like the capital, Phnom Penh. .

Speaking by phone, Sochua said she witnessed subtle attempts at voter intimidation on Sunday. She said she saw influential local officials, aligned with the CPP, standing near polling stations as Cambodians arrived to vote.

 "It has an effect, it does. It is one of the factors, in terms of voters not voting their conscience," said Sochua. Observers say the CPP benefits from a long-entrenched system of patronage, which rewards its supporters while shutting out its opponents.

"If they don't vote for the party, it could have some problems," said Thun Saray, president of Adhoc, a local rights group. "Normally they provide donations to every family, except if they know some families in the village, they do not support their party, perhaps they don't give the donations. That is the habit."

Saray also chairs the standing committee for Comfrel, an elections watchdog. This election was an improvement on previous polls, with fewer instances of violence, intimidation and overt irregularities, he says. But, the use of civil servants, police and the military to campaign on behalf of the ruling party, has become a major issue, according to Saray.

He says this election may be acceptable, compared to previous polls, but the country has a long way to go before it can declare its voting process free and fair.

"Free and fair, with the international standard - no, not at all. Because you see the CPP controls the important media, especially the television, all the radio, and also the newspapers," said Saray. "They control the media. And they also have a lot of the money. They donate to, not every voter, the voters that they know support them."

On election day, some radio stations reported being instructed by the Information Ministry not to carry broadcasts by specific news media. This included programming by VOA's Khmer service on two major FM radio stations.

 Ministry officials could not be reached for comment. . Read more!

Cambodian officials named over Khmer Rouge genocide

FOUR senior officials in the Cambodian government have been named as persons of interest by an investigating judge involved in the Khmer Rouge genocide tribunal, confidential documents obtained by The Age reveal.

A United Nations investigating judge who quit the court in early May, citing dysfunctional investigations into the case, has named current Cambodian senate president Chea Sim, National Assembly president Heng Samrin, the chief of the army and another senator as persons of interest.

 All were officials in the brutal Khmer Rouge regime that ruled the country from 1975 until 1979 and were named by investigators into Case 003, which includes the imprisonment and murder of thousands of people at the Tuol Sleng prison. 

The Cambodian government has blocked prosecutions in the case against former Khmer Rouge air force commander Sou Met and navy chief Meas Muth. Mr Meas Muth allegedly sent two Australian yachtsmen to their death at Tuol Sleng.

In the documents, the UN investigator said the four senior members of the ruling Cambodia People's Party held positions of authority in the Khmer Rouge regime and are key witnesses to atrocities committed against ethnic Vietnamese civilians living on the border with Cambodia.

The judge conducted field investigations into the conflict between Cambodia and Vietnam in the 1970s and states ''new facts'' were discovered about the war.

These ''new facts'' include ''a premeditated attack on an undefended civilian Vietnamese village'' and a supposition that other similar attacks occurred, along with evidence of repeated incursions into Vietnamese territory.

The confidential court document alleges the four are likely to have crucial information due to their positions of authority and that Mr Heng Samrin was a deputy commander of troops who committed attacks that the investigator called ''brutal and illegal''.

Many senior Cambodian government officials, including Prime Minister Hun Sen, served in the Khmer Rouge regime during its deadly reign.

The government is particularly sensitive about links between its officials and the regime and Mr Hun Sen has told the UN that any further investigations beyond the current trial of three ageing leaders are ''not allowed''.

Three of the four senior leaders named in the confidential court document, including Mr Heng Samrin and Mr Chea Sim, have previously been summonsed by investigators in the case against Khmer Rouge ''Brother Number 2'' Nuon Chea and others. The senior politicians refused to obey the summonses.

 The UN investigating judge who led the recent investigations said he stepped down from the court because he had been ''completely blocked'' by Cambodian staff at the tribunal. His predecessor similarly quit the court in October last year citing government interference in the case.

The information comes on the eve of nationwide elections in Cambodia and during its year as chair of the Association of South East Asian Nations.

The trials, officially called the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, are in chaos following bitter internal disagreements, staff resignations and a budgeting crisis. . Read more!

Malaysia/Cambodia-Islam: Aid pours in for Cham Muslims

KUALA LUMPUR, 14 Rajab/4 June (IINA) – THOUSANDS of Muslims in Cham district in Cambodia got an early Hari Raya Aidilfitri surprise when they received goodies from a humanitarian team from Malaysia recently.

The team, led by Defence Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, presented clothes, books and generators, worth RM500,000, to residents of Kampung Rakapram and surrounding villages.

Zahid was joined by representatives from Yayasan Dakwah Islamiah Malaysia (Yadim), Polytechnic Education Department employees and reporters, who had been in Phnom Penh for the Asean Defence Ministers’ Meeting. 

The arrival of the convoy was greeted by more than 1,000 Muslim Cambodians.

 Zahid said the villagers were united with a majority of Malaysians by Islam.

“I feel privileged to be here with my brethren. This trip, although my first, will not be my last.

“I see a great opportunity for people here to come work in Malaysia and will discuss this issue with Human Resources Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam,” he said to applause from the crowd.

Read more!