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Monitors Warn of Last-Minute Shenanigans

Saturday will be an official day of rest for the candidates and voters, but a joint statement by election monitors warned Friday of last-minute attempts by political parties to bribe, cajole or threaten voters.

A joint statement led by the Committee for Free and Fair Elections called the atmosphere ahead of Sunday's elections "tense and insecure," especially as a military standoff on the Thai border continues and in the wake of the murder of opposition journalist Kim Sambor.

The Saturday night ahead of elections is colloquially referred to as the "Night of the Barking Dogs," when strangers move through the darkness of villages in their persuasive efforts.

"Regarding these elections, civil society organizations are concerned that political parties will give money and/or materials to voters not only to attract them to voter for their party but also to prevent certain voters from going to cast their ballot," the monitors said.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy has warned of a clean-finger campaign, alleging ruling Cambodian People's Party supporters are offering money to people to prevent them from voting, and from having their fingers died with ink in the process.

Election monitors assailed "the lack of neutrality of most government officials, authorities, armed force personnel and national police, who carry out activities supporting the ruling party and against other political parties."

The National Election Committee said the statement by the monitors belied a relatively more peaceful campaign.

"I don't know the grounds behind this report," NEC Secretary-General Tep Nitha said. "However, during this campaign, it was very positive compared to previous elections."

This year, the commune election committees received 180 complaints, compared to 575 in the 2003 general election, he said. The NEC received 35 complaints this year, compared to 53 in 2003.

"We have a plan to strengthen the security in collaboration with authorities," Tep Nitha said.

Interior Ministry spokesman Lt. Gen. Khieu Sopheak recognized that the pre-election period had some problems, but less than in previous elections.

"Our commitment is, we are responsible for making sure every suspect must be brought in and punished by the law," he said.