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Cambodia Ends Largely-Peaceful Vote - 2002-02-03

In Cambodia, voting has ended in the country's first elections for local councils. Correspondent Scott Bobb reports from Phnom Penh that initial reports say the balloting was largely peaceful and orderly, although some incidents were reported.

Voters turned out early and in large numbers Sunday to elect representatives to 1,600 communal councils. Many lined up at dawn outside polling centers.

Many voters indicate they voted for the ruling Cambodia People's Party because it had freed them from the oppressive Khmer Rouge regime.

But others, like Phnom Penh student Chruk Tola, are unhappy with the lack of progress in the country and want change. "I think everything is not changed. It is the same as before. I mean I didn't see any [economic] development. So now is the time I can choose a new leader," he said.

Office worker Phanom Kim, speaking through an interpreter, said the national election four years ago was a new experience for Cambodians. This time, she says, Cambodians are more experienced and know what they want. " "We need rapid change for this country so that those who graduate from school can have a job," she said through a translator.

Voters express fear, however, that there may be violence after the results are announced, as happened after the national elections four years ago. Preliminary results may start coming as soon as Monday, but the official tallies will not be done for about three weeks.

Prime Minister Hun Sen Saturday ordered security tightened for candidates and election observers after a series of murders over the past year drew criticism that an atmosphere of intimidation threatened the fairness of the election.

The leader of the FUNCINPEC party, National Assembly President Norodom Ranariddh, told reporters after voting that he was impressed by the enthusiasm of the people, despite the violence. "Now [the people] realize that it is a unique chance for them for a change. It is a real chance for a real change, and according to our law," he said.

Hundreds of international observers have been deployed across the country. One observer was Xanana Gusmao, the leader of the independence movement in East Timor, which is to become independent in May. "The elections went very smoothly and I salute, congratulate the Cambodian people for reaching another step to build democracy here in their country," he said.

Observers said some technical irregularities were noted during the vote and they said they were investigating two killings on the eve of the election.

A candidate of the opposition Sam Rainsy party was found dead in what authorities said was a suicide. And an election observer was killed in what was ruled a motorcycle robbery.