Subject: AFP: Xanana on ET & Cambodian elections

Also: Cambodians cast their votes as officials uncover two bodies

Sunday February 3, 3:21 PM

Observer Gusmao predicts East Timor local elections after Cambodia

PHNOM PENH (AFP) - Independence hero Xanana Gusmao forecast local elections in East Timor after acting as an independent observer for district polls in Cambodia.

"We are in the position where we have to learn from other people," he told the Foreign Journalists' Club of Cambodia Sunday. "I believe we will need elections in our local community ... and in April I don't foresee too many problems."

Gusmao is acting as an independent observer for the Asian Network for Free Elections. He is widely expected to win East Timor's first presidential election to be held on April 14, a poll seen as East Timor's final step towards full independence.

He earlier opened a polling booth near the Toul Sleng centre where some 16,000 people were allegedly tortured and sent to their deaths by the Khmer Rouge, which ruled this country between 1975 and 1979.

"What I see is in these first community elections is a good step in building democratic elections for the people," he said. "It is important to prove that people can elect their leader."

He noted the Cambodian poll had been hit by allegations of violence and intimidation but added that given Cambodia's population, its history, and the scope of the elections the situation had improved.

Cambodia's local elections -- known here as commune elections -- are the first since the country fell into civil war in 1970 and are aimed at completing Cambodia's transition to democracy.

Electioneering had been marred by allegations that some 23 candidates and activists were killed for political reasons.

However, diplomats and observers said the death toll was well down on the lead-up to national elections in 1998, which were judged free and fair.


Monday February 4, 12:27 AM

Cambodians cast their votes as officials uncover two bodies

PHNOM PENH (AFP) - More than five million Cambodians cast their ballots in landmark local polls aimed at completing the country's transition to democracy, but the day was marred by two deaths.

Election monitors said Sunday a steady stream of voters moved peacefully through polling stations with few reports of violence or intimidation by the time the polls closed at 3:00pm (0800 GMT).

Full results from the 1,621 communes were not expected to be known until Monday or Tuesday but observers said initial counting revealed the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) was leading, as expected.

However, the opposition Sam Rainsy Party was polling strongly and receiving 2.5 votes for every one vote for the royalist FUNCINPEC party, the International Republican Institute (IRI) told AFP.

"The samples are small and we recognise the limitations of that," IRI spokesman George Folsom said. "With that in mind the SRP is getting two-and-half times FUNCINPEC's vote while the CPP is on target for more than 50 percent of the vote."

Phnom Penh governor Chea Sophara added that the CPP was set to win 70 out of 76 communes in the capital while the SRP would collect the remaining six. FUNCINPEC chief Prince Norodom Ranariddh said earlier in the day that he expected to receive up to 40 percent of the vote.

While polling was peaceful, the day was marred by the discovery of two bodies.

The Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (NICFEC) said Sao Savon, 31, was found dead in the eastern Svay Rieng province.

His hands were tied, stab wounds covered his body and face and he had been shot in the left eye and the back of the head, NICFEC executive director Hang Puthea said.

He said "there is as yet no evidence" linking Savon's death to his role as an observer in the polls, known here as commune elections, which are the first of their kind to be held in about 30 years.

"However, because this murder happened during the election lead-up and because of the high level of violence it makes the murder seem to be more than a simple robbery," he said.

The second body, of SRP candidate Ban Bon, a 38-year-old father of eight, was found hanging from the ceiling of his family home overnight. Police said the death was a suicide which followed a family argument.

But SRP chief Sam Rainsy said he did not believe his candidate would "strangle himself to death a day ahead of the election."

Twenty-four people have now died under suspicious circumstances in the lead-up to the elections, considered a crucial step for Cambodian democracy, but the number was about half that incurred before the 1998 national elections, which were judged free and fair.

International monitor and East Timorese independence hero Xanana Gusmao said Cambodia's population, its history, and the scope of the elections meant the broad situation had improved.

"What I see is in these first community elections is a good step in building democratic elections for the people," he said. "It is important to prove that people can elect their leaders."

About 75,000 candidates contested the polls which requires the CPP to relinquish its domination over the communes.

The party of Prime Minister Hun Sen has ruled communes since it seized control as the then Cambodian Communist Party after Pol Pot was ousted in 1979.

Observers also said they were disturbed by the National Election Committee's (NEC) order on Saturday that only pens approved by the NEC or commune officials could be used by voters for security reasons.

Tim Johnson, spokesman for the Washington-based election monitors International Republican Institute, said the order was made too late and polling booths may not be correctly equipped.


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