Ta Siem commune, Svay Leu district, Siem Reap province
Several hundred soldiers have travelled from Cambodia’s northern border in Preah Vihear province to vote today in Siem Reap’s remote Ta Siem commune, a tight electoral battleground in Svay Leu district previously held by the opposition, according to members of the unit speaking from the area this morning.
As voters began casting their ballots to elect commune representatives at about 7:30am, a soldier who identified himself as “Sovanara” in Intervention Brigade 9, which is based in Preah Vihear’s Choam Ksan district, told the Post about 800 troops had arrived in Ta Siem in recent days.
He pointed out that many large groups of men milling about outside a polling station at Samdech Techo Hun Sen primary school in Trapeang Thmor village were from his unit.
Though dressed in civilian clothes, the troops’ presence was confirmed by four other soldiers at the station this morning, who said they had recently arrived from Preah Vihear to vote but declined to give their names.
Sovanara, a 62-year-old who has lived and served in Preah Vihear for almost three decades, said his unit was transported from the border in large military trucks
“I came here by military truck. There are about 40 people [on the trucks], there were 18 trucks,” he said, naming their commander as Duong Chan.
“There are more than 2,000 [stationed at the border] but they’ve got split to Boeung Mealea and other places,” he said, referring to another commune in the district.
Sovanara said the trucks parked about two kilometres away, and the troops walked to the polling station from there. The Post later saw four troop carriers nearby. Three were parked behind a villager’s home, and another left carrying about a dozen men travelling out of uniform.
Sovanara said the group had come to “protect” the polling station. He justified the large number of soldiers needed to protect the station by saying “it’s a remote area” near the Preah Vihear border.
“They came with me,” he added as a group of several voters walked past reporters.
Ta Siem fell to the Sam Rainsy Party at the 2012 commune election by a margin of 62 votes out of more than 1,500. The SRP’s commune chief, Nhoek Rem, was forced to step down in March after officially registering as a candidate for the CNRP.
The commune saw a surge of support for the CPP at the following year’s national ballot, however, when an additional 1,300 voters cast ballots in the commune. Sovanara said his unit also voted in the commune in 2013.
“This is irregular, but I can’t do anything,” said Rem, the opposition candidate. “I don't have any way to deal with this. But I think I will win anyway.” He added that he was aware of 753 soldiers registering in the commune.
Rem’s adversary, CPP candidate Soum Rin, denied soldiers were present in the area. "There are no soldiers here; I only see people dressed in civilian clothes.”
The large deployment in this part of Siem Reap province adds to evidence reported by the Post on Wednesday suggesting large numbers of non-resident soldiers were injected and mobilised strategically into several communes across the country by the military, whose commanders are mostly high-ranking members of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.