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Opposition Parties Ask EU for Fair Elections

The opposition parties of Sam Rainsy and Prince Norodom Ranariddh called on the European Union Monday to guarantee fair commune elections next month.

The EU is donor for the elections, scheduled for April 1, and should ensure they will be independent and neutral, party officials said in meetings Monday with Seamus Gillespie, an EU representative in Cambodia.

"I ask the international community that assists both in the budget and expertise in the election to ensure there will be neither cheating nor discrimination in setting voters' right," Sam Rainsy said.

The government's National Election Committee has been criticized of being biased toward Prime Minister Hun Sen's ruling party, the Cambodian People's Party, but the committee says it operates fairly.

"We appeal for the EU to put pressure, so Prince Ranariddh can safely come back to Cambodia and so that his party can campaign everywhere, like other parties," Ok Socheat, the prince's advisor said Monday. Ranariddh is reportedly in France, following charges in Cambodia that he sold the headquarters of his old party, Funcinpec.

The April elections will determine leaders in all of Cambodia's more than 1,600 communes, but elections in the country are typically marred by violence. The opposition says the elections are tipped in the favor of the CPP, despite efforts to make the campaigning fair.

SRP officials alleged over the weekend that CPP candidates were already campaigning in Pursat province, ahead of the mandated March 16 start date.

Huon Chanthuon, an SRP commune council chief in the province, said CPP officials gathered villagers from Thmey Khum Talo Srok Bakan for a meeting where everyone received 2,000 riel for showing up. CPP officials rejected the charges, saying they only paid for noodles for the villages. NEC Secretary-General Tep Nitha said this was not a major problem.