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Vote Counting in Cambodia Continues; Observers Concerned - 2002-02-05


In Cambodia, national monitors have said Sunday's local elections were relatively free and fair and they will accept the results. But international observers have expressed reservations, as the vote counting continues.

Cambodian election observers Tuesday said they would accept the results of the country's first communal council elections and hailed them as an important step toward democracy.

Returns were still trickling in from the provinces, but a variety of sources said the ruling Cambodia People's Party had scored sizable victories in most of the country and would lead all but a few dozen local councils.

However, the opposition Sam Rainsy Party made important gains in urban areas and will be the second biggest political force in the capital, Phnom Penh.

Party leader Sam Rainsy Monday told reporters he would accept the results if observers do, but a senior official Tuesday told VOA the party was considering filing a complaint about irregularities.

An observer with the Asia Network for Free Elections, Kang Iong Nian, said his group's initial assessment was mixed.

"We find [the elections] mostly acceptable, but we also take into account the election related violence and the irregularities that happened before," he said.

The U.S.-based International Republican Institute, however, sharply criticized the elections saying they were not free and fair. Institute president George Folsom said the balloting was competently run but that the pre-election period was marred by many irregularities.

"Access to the media has been restricted and indeed monopolized by the ruling party. There have been unfortunately systematic violence resulting in the murder of numerous NGO and political party activists. And thirdly, the registration process, we believe, was not only restricted but was manipulated to favor some groups over others," he said.

Observers from the European Union said the elections marked progress in the consolidation of democracy, but added that the irregularities raised serious concerns.

All the observer groups said they were monitoring for any violence during the transition period and urged the central government to give the local councils true responsibilities and power.

Official results are expected in two weeks.