Cambodian Parties Meet Again Over Polls Probe Amid Security Build-Up

cambodia-apc-aug-2013.jpg Children sit on motorbikes near armored personnel carriers parked in the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Aug. 8, 2013.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen's ruling party and the main opposition party, following an appeal from the country's revered king, have agreed to reconsider the possibility of forming a joint committee to investigate widespread irregularities in disputed elections, officials said Friday.

The move came as the government played down the deployment of armored personnel carriers and soldiers in the capital Phnom Penh, saying it was a precautionary measure following threats by the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) to hold mass demonstrations if poll malpractices were not investigated.

Officials from CNRP and the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) met on Friday and agreed to look into the possibility of setting up a probe panel comprising members of the two parties as well as nongovernmental organizations and observers from the United Nations and other international groups.

"This is just a start," CNRP deputy president Kem Sokha told RFA's Khmer Service.

Noting that officials from Hun Sen's government are hopeful that the committee will be be able to grapple with investigations into the irregularities in the July 28 national elections, he said, "We are also hopeful."

"There must be goodwill," he added.

Results announcement delayed

In a simultaneous move, the National Election Committee (NEC), which conducts polls in the country, announced it was delaying any announcement of preliminary election results scheduled over the weekend, saying election irregularities have to be resolved first.

"The NEC has not completed examining the election irregularities yet," it said in a statement. "The NEC will announce the preliminary results soon" without giving any new date.

The CNRP has claimed that ballot irregularities resulted in more than 1 million names removed from voter lists, with a similar number of "phantom" voters added to them, along with what it called the duplication of about 200,000 names.

Both the CNRP and CPP have claimed victory in the hotly contested elections in which the performance by Hun Sen's party was the worst since 1998. 

King Norodom Sihamoni called for calm in a public statement Wednesday and sought a peaceful resolution to the election crisis.

"[F]or the sake of national interests and peace and national stability, I appeal to the two parties that were chosen to be represented at the National Assembly [parliament] to continue talking to find a peaceful resolution to their remaining disputes," he said.

Discussing UN role in probe

Kem Sokha said Interior Minister Sar Kheng had earlier contacted him about the prospect of their meeting on the dispute over the vote but he had asked that the working groups from the two parties meet first on Friday.

Previous discussions on the issue had broken down because the CPP did not agree to the CNRP's proposal to have the U.N. lead or be a member of any joint committee that probes the poll irregularities.

CNRP deputy president Kem Sokha said Friday that his party would be agreeable to the U.N. acting as just observers in the panel if the CPP agreed that the National Election Committee (NEC), which manages polls in the country, be kept out of the probe.

Following a request by CNRP chief Sam Rainsy to the U.N. to participate in the panel, the world body has said that it cannot do so unless it is invited by the government, Kem Sokha said.

"We want to establish a committee to seek justice for the voters," Kem Sokha said.

Sar Kheng speaks to reporters after a meeting with NGOs in Phnom Penh, Aug. 9, 2013. Photo credit: RFA.
Sar Kheng speaks to reporters after a meeting with NGOs in Phnom Penh, Aug. 9, 2013. Photo credit: RFA.
Minister Sar Kheng confirmed that the CPP and CNRP were working on a compromise in order to resolve the election crisis and hoped for a "positive result" soon.

“We are sitting together but I don’t know the result yet,” he said, indicating that the NEC has to be involved in any probe on the voting irregularities.

The CNRP said in a statement that the Friday meeting was attended by three representatives from each party with the aim of establishing an independent working committee to investigate election irregularities.

It been agreed that the two-hour meeting would "look into the possibility of selecting NGO's that have expertise and experience on elections to work in a technical group with participants from representatives from the United Nations and international observers,” the statement said.

Calming tensions

CNRP spokesman Yem Ponharith said the meeting was in response to the appeal by King Sihamoni this week for all parties to engage in talks to avoid violence.

However, he said, the meeting Friday did not produce any “fruitful result."

Senior CNRP official Son Chhay, who participated in the meeting, also said that an independent committee looking into the election irregularities would calm tensions.

The authorities boosted security in the capital Phnom Penh this week as uneasy residents stockpiled food to prepare for any possible turmoil, amid calls by Sam Rainsy for mass street protests if the NEC proceeded to announce official results without considering the CNRP’s plea for a probe.

An RFA reporter on Thursday spotted at least six armored personnel carriers stationed in the grounds of a pagoda near Phnom Penh, while local residents told RFA they had seen two tanks heading on the roads into the city.

Approximately 100 members from each unit of the armed forces, military police, and national police have been deployed to the city, the Phnom Penh Post reported.

Concern over soldiers' deployment

With the potential for mass demonstrations and the government moving hundreds of security forces into Phnom Penh, human rights group Amnesty International in a statement called for Cambodian authorities and other political leaders to prevent violence.

“The Cambodian security forces, which have a chequered record when policing demonstrations, must refrain from using excessive or unnecessary force against demonstrators. They must not make tense situations even more volatile by failing to respect human rights,” it said.

Minister Sar Kheng met Friday with representatives from nearly a dozen concerned nongovernmental organizations over the military deployment.

Local rights group Adhoc director Thun Saray said the NGOs expressed their concerns to Sar Kheng over the military's show of strength.

"Sar Kheng said the deployment was not aimed at preventing people from holding nonviolent demonstrations," Thun Saray said. "He said he must respect that right."

But the ministry pointed out that the military deployment showed that the government is ready to maintain social stability and prevent any events that might jeopardize security, he said.

Reported by RFA's Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.


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