Cambodians prepare for worst as poll tension grows: Fears of violence lead to stockpiling of food and arms in run-up to Sunday's multi-party elections

PHNOM PENH - Fearing an explosion of violence, Cambodians are hoarding food, buying guns and shuttering businesses, with just days to go before the country's first multi-party elections in two decades.

The tension can be sensed at the usually bustling central market, where most of the gold, jewellery and watch stalls are closed. Only a sprinkling of shoppers can be seen, stocking up on rice and canned food. They fear the market will close if there are attacks on the capital during the six days of voting in the United Nations-supervised elections, starting on Sunday.

Nov Wan, 61, a mother of eight, has stocked up on rice and is prepared to board up her house and stay inside. 'I won't go anywhere except to vote,' she said. Her neighbour, Preap Rors, added: 'I am worried about the situation, but I must vote because I want a new government.'

Sa Vet, 40, who owns a tiny food stall at the market, said he sold more than 2,000 cans of sardines this week. He usually sells fewer than 100. The market's moneychangers are almost out of high-denomination banknotes. They say people have been frantically buying 500-riel (6.5p) notes, the largest available, because they will be easier to carry if they have to flee their homes.

All Cambodia's factions signed the UN-sponsored peace plan in 1991 but the Khmer Rouge is boycotting the poll and has been blamed for attacks that have killed and wounded dozens of UN personnel in the past two months. It is widely feared that the group will attack polling sites. The head of the UN peace- keeping force, Lieutenant-General John Sanderson, yesterday authorised other Cambodian factions to launch attacks to protect polling stations.

A number of university students and other people with families outside the capital have left for the provinces. Those with more money, mostly Cambodian-American entrepreneurs and political candidates, have sent their families abroad in the past few days. Flights out of the country are fully booked.

Many of those staying are buying guns and ammunition. Gun-sellers in Phnom Penh's covert arms bazaar say that in recent weeks a number of wealthy businessmen and factory owners have bought AK-47 automatic rifles, costing about pounds 45, to defend themselves. Bullets were selling fast at pounds 13 for a case of 700. One dealer said even UN officials had been buying weapons.

UN military personnel have been ordered off the streets by 10pm. Those in Phnom Penh, who have been unarmed throughout the 14-month operation, have been told to carry weapons on duty, and the families of UN staff were ordered last week to leave Cambodia until after the election.

Yesterday Prince Norodom Sihanouk, regarded by many as the sole hope for healing Cambodia's deep wounds, announced that he would return from Peking tomorrow. Earlier he had said he could not come back to Cambodia because of poor health. 'I had to retain distance from the entire electoral campaign to underscore clearly that I am not linked to any political party,' a statement from Prince Sihanouk said. He added that neither he, his wife nor his staff would cast their votes.

Fighting between the Khmer Rouge and Phnom Penh government forces was reported yesterday in the provinces of Kompong Thom, Kampot and Siem Reap. Several UN peace-keepers were evacuated from their post in Kompong Thom after suspected Khmer Rouge attackers began shelling a nearby government position.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
filmPoldark production team claims innocence of viewers' ab frenzy
Life and Style
Google marks the 81st anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster's most famous photograph
techIt's the 81st anniversary of THAT iconic photograph
News
Katie Hopkins makes a living out of courting controversy
people
News
General Election
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office Administrator

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Office Administrator is requ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - Commercial Vehicles - OTE £40,000

£12000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion and growth of ...

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - Sheffield - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer position with a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Leader - Plasma Processing

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Operations Leader is required to join a lea...

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders