Soldiers with machine-guns and rocket launchers spread out along the Mekong River shore in Phnom Penh, and armoured cars were parked at important intersections. 'The Khmer Rouge have threatened that they will at all costs launch an attack . . . We want to prevent a Khmer Rouge attack aimed at sabotaging the polls,' the Prime Minister, Hun Sen, said on Cambodian state radio.
Although Phnom Penh has escaped most of the violence plaguing the country in the run-up to the United Nations-organised election, rumours abound that the Khmer Rouge has been infiltrating the capital. At least one UN official is reported to have been forced at gunpoint to carry guerrillas into the city, and UN officers at Phnom Penh's Pochentong airport said there was concern that the Khmer Rouge might try to attack Cambodia's main international link.
At the weekend, suspected Khmer Rouge fighters fired several rockets and mortar rounds at Siem Reap airport in the north-west, less than two weeks after the guerrillas mounted a big attack on the town.
Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the UN Secretary-General, said last week there were strong indications that the Khmer Rouge, which killed more than a million Cambodians when it held power in the late 1970s, would try to use violence to disrupt the election. He conceded that it would not be held in the 'neutral political environment' the UN was supposed to ensure under the 1991 Paris peace accords.
The Australian commander of the 16,000-strong UN peacekeeping forces, Lieutenant-General John Sanderson, said the Khmer Rouge was not capable of stopping the poll, 'provided everybody maintains their commitment', but warned that his men could not safeguard rural voters away from the polling stations. 'I'll make the point that security of the people and security of their passage to the polls is the responsibility of the (Cambodian) factions,' he said.
Twenty parties are participating in the election, which takes place over six days, starting on Sunday. Campaigning ends tomorrow, in the hope of reducing the danger of violence. Many UN officials fear, however, that voters will be caught between the two factions with the arms - the Khmer Rouge and the Hun Sen government, installed after the Vietnamese invasion in 1978. Support for the royalist party, known as Funcinpec, is ebbing as Phnom Penh intimidates its workers and uses the climate of violence, for much of which it is responsible, to claim that it is the only force capable of preventing a return by Pol Pot's movement. The government sought to reinforce this message yesterday when a Kampuchea Airways plane showered Phnom Penh with leaflets warning: 'A vote for Funcinpec is a vote for the Khmer Rouge, and supports their return to power.'