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Sunday, July 26, 1998 Published at 14:11 GMT 15:11 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Big turnout in Cambodia poll

Buddhist monks cast their votes

Polls have closed in Cambodia's general election, which saw a large turnout by voters and predictions of a strong challenge to the government of Hun Sen.

"There's much at stake for the Cambodian leader": Simon Ingram reports
As voting ended, government officials said Khmer Rouge rebels had attacked a government position in northern Cambodia, killing ten people.

The officials said the raid took place near the former Khmer Rouge stronghold of Anlong Veng.

Elsewhere, the polling passed off peacefully in many areas, despite an election campaign marred by violence and criticised by the opposition and human rights groups as unfair.

[ image: Queueing to vote]
Queueing to vote
The general election is the first since Prince Norodom Ranariddh was violently ousted from his position as First Prime Minister a year ago.

It is also the first run by Cambodians themselves, although funding has come from abroad.

There were long queues at many of the 11,600 polling stations. Election officials said the voting process was a lengthy one.

Poll "not a foregone conclusion": Caroline Gluck reports
In Pailin, a former Khmer Rouge heartland, former guerrillas lined up at polling stations for the first time.

One of the first people to vote on Sunday was Chan Somphon who, like one in 300 Cambodians, has been injured by a landmine, millions of which are left over from decades of war. "I want peace for Cambodia," he said.

"Democratic credentials"

[ image: Hun Sen talking to the BBC's Simon Ingram]
Hun Sen talking to the BBC's Simon Ingram
The Second Prime Minister, Hun Sen, who has dominated political life in Cambodia since ousting his rival, Prince Ranariddh, a year ago, was among the first to cast his ballot.

Speaking afterwards, he described the poll as a victory for the Cambodian people.

Hun Sen talks to Simon Ingram on BBC World (with voiceover translation)
In a BBC interview, Hun Sen said the fact that 39 parties were taking part underlined the country's democratic credentials. He pledged to recognise the results of the vote and arrange a rapid transfer of power if his party lost.

He said it was time for the international community to grant Cambodia its seat at the United Nations and entry to the grouping of South-east Asian nations, Asean, denied it after last year's factional fighting.

"Not free and fair, but broadly representative"

[ image: The voting process has been lengthy]
The voting process has been lengthy
International and local observers do not expect the vote to be completely free and fair.

But they expect the result to be broadly representative of the will of the people.

The BBC South-east Asia correspondent Simon Ingram says Hun Sen needs a credible election to legitimise his hold on power.

Hun Sen's Cambodia People's Party has dominated the campaign and he is widely expected to win a majority, but not by a big enough margin to rule alone.

Analysts believe that even massive vote-rigging would be unlikely to bring Hun Sen the necessary majority, making a coalition the most likely outcome.


[ image: Prince Norodom Ranariddh: Main rival]
Prince Norodom Ranariddh: Main rival
Opposition groups and the human rights organisation Amnesty International have accused Hun Sen's supporters of murder, kidnap and intimidation during the campaign.

The main local observer group, Comfrel, said there had been more than 100 killings during the campaign - fewer than had been feared.

Glenys Kinnock, European election observer: 'Very encouraging'
The main challengers are the Funcipec Party, led by Prince Ranariddh, and the Sam Rainsy Party, led by a former finance minister of the same name.

Prince Ranariddh said the election was a "choice between democracy and totalitarianism".

About 20,000 people are observing the elections, 600 of them from abroad. Preliminary results are not due until 1 August.

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26 Jul 98 | Cambodia
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