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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 July, 2003, 17:46 GMT 18:46 UK
Cambodia poll run-up criticised
A skirmish at a checkpoint in Phnom Penh earlier this month
Observers are worried that violence will again mar Cambodia's elections
The Cambodian Government needs to do more to ensure its upcoming general elections are credible and transparent, a United Nations envoy said on Tuesday.

Peter Leuprecht, the UN's chief human rights representative for Cambodia, said that while progress had been made, there were still "significant obstacles" preventing the poll from being free and fair.

Cambodia needed to establish "a level playing field for all political parties, a transparent election process and a political climate free from violence and intimidation," he said.

A total of 23 parties are contesting the election on 27 July.

But only the royalist Funcinpec party - a junior partner in the current government coalition - and the opposition Sam Rainsy Party are considered serious challengers to Prime Minister Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party.

Village chiefs

Mr Leuprecht's remarks came at the end of a nine-day visit to Cambodia, aimed at assessing the current human rights situation in the country.

The envoy met with Hun Sen and other political leaders, as well as members of the National Election Committee.

"At present, violations of the electoral law and infringements of constitutionally protected rights appear to be condoned as they are carried out across the country without apparent fear of sanction," Mr Leuprecht said.

He added that his staff had discovered cases in which local officials had confiscated voter registration cards, and made people swear allegiance to a particular party.

Mr Leuprecht did not accuse any specific party of being behind these incidents, but said he was particularly concerned about "the central role of village chiefs" in intimidating people.

Mr Leuprecht called on the government and the National Election Committee to investigate further, and "punish those who are responsible for these illegal practices".

The election campaign has already been tarnished by violence.

Nine political activists were killed in the first five days of campaigning at the end of June, an independent election monitor told the French news agency AFP.

Violence also marred Cambodia's two previous elections, and the US has already appealed to all parties involved to avoid politically-motivated intimidation and disturbances.

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