Pullout by U.N. Volunteers May Jeopardize Election Plans
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) _ Since the killing three weeks ago of an idealistic young Japanese electoral worker, dozens of foreign volunteers have quit the U.N.’s Cambodia mission, fearing such attacks will only escalate as elections draw near.
The shooting of 25-year-old Atsuhito Nakata and his Cambodian interpreter on April 8 was only the latest warning sign, volunteers say.
Although the Communist Khmer Rouge were first suspected of the murders, a U.N. spokesman said today it may well have been the action of a disgruntled job seeker - underlining the atmosphere of hostility facing many volunteers in the provinces.
Since they began their assignments almost a year ago - registering voters, teaching them how to cast their ballots and explaining how their votes would be secret - the volunteers said they have had to contend with almost constant skirmishing between Cambodian factions that has brought shellfire literally as close as their own doorsteps.
″I don’t think we can organize an election where a civil war is going on,″ said Marie Agnes Bolognesi, 26, of Toulouse, France, just days before leaving Cambodia.
U.N. officials say 41 of the 400 electoral volunteers from around the world have either quit the mission or declined to renew their contracts, less than a month before the May 23-28 election. The volunteers are typically young professionals, such as lawyers.
To keep any more volunteers from quitting, U.N. officials have proposed upgrading security by providing bulletproof jackets, armed escorts in the provinces and bunkers in which to sleep.
″I have no intention to organize a U.N. election from a bunker,″ said Claude Dunn, 30, of Montreal, who worked in the troubled north-central province of Kompong Thom where Nakata was slain.
Dunn said the day Nakata died, villagers told him armed gunmen had come to his office looking for more electoral workers, apparently to kill them. He has since transfered to another province.
The villagers said the gunmen were from the Khmer Rouge. The guerrilla group insists it is innocent.
U.N. spokesman Eric Falt said today that evidence suggested the two workers were killed by a lone gunman, which he said was not characteristic of Khmer Rouge attacks. Nakata had received several death threats from Cambodians passed over in the hiring of polling officers, Falt said.
While denying responsibility for the attack, the Khmer Rouge, which killed hundreds of thousands of Cambodians in a brutal reign in the 1970s, is boycotting the election and has said it will never accept its results.
According to the peace agreement the Khmer Rouge and Cambodia’s three other factions signed in 1991 to end 13 years of war, the U.N.-supervised elections were to bring about national reconciliation. Without the Khmer Rouge’s participation, that can never happen, some volunteers say.