Even a full-scale attack by the dreaded Khmer Rouge guerrillas could not keep voters from casting their ballots in this remote corner of Cambodia.
"I was very frightened by the Khmer Rouge," said Chek Ly, a 25-year-old woman who walked four miles to the polling station in her best yellow dress. "I'm still afraid, that's why I am hurrying to vote and get home."
The Khmer Rouge had attacked this district Sunday with mortars, rockets and small-arms fire before being driven off by Phnom Penh government soldiers. The guerrillas briefly captured a U.N. truck carrying ballot boxes to polling stations, but no one appeared to have been hurt in the clash.
When polling stations opened Monday, large crowds were already waiting here to vote in Cambodia's first free and fair election since the 1960s. By late afternoon, 3,189 people had cast ballots, roughly 25% of those registered--an astonishing figure considering the presence in the neighborhood of the Khmer Rouge.
"I want human rights and democracy," said Uch Chhun, 53, a teacher for 30 years in this remote village.
Throughout Cambodia, the story was much the same. U.N. officials reported that at least 1 million more voters went to the polls Monday, bringing the total turnout so far to more than 3 million of the country's 4.6 million registered voters--more than 65%.
"It's a reaffirmation of the desire of the Cambodian people for peace," said Reginald Austin, a professor from Zimbabwe who is running the election component of the United Nations' massive peacekeeping operation in Cambodia.
A U.N. spokesman reported only scattered violence Monday. One civilian was killed and another was wounded during shelling in Kompong Cham province, the province electing the largest number of seats--18--in the new, 120-seat Constituent Assembly.
Rockets and artillery were also fired at towns in northern Siem Reap province, forcing the interruption of voting for several hours but not causing the closure of any polling stations.
Voting in the election, which will continue until Friday, has clearly exceeded all expectations, leaving U.N. officials jubilant. Results are expected to be released next week.
One U.N. spokesman, who has been waxing lyrical about the election's success, noted that 200 uniformed Khmer Rouge soldiers showed up at a polling station in Poipet, near the Thai border, produced valid voting registration cards and peacefully cast ballots.
The Khmer Rouge caused the deaths of an estimated 1 million Cambodians in the 1970s. Forced into exile, the guerrillas signed the Cambodian peace agreement of October, 1991, but withdrew from the peace process last June rather than put their soldiers under U.N. command. They have announced a boycott of the election.
Here in Kampot province, there were reports from voters that Khmer Rouge guerrillas were stopping people on the roads and ordering them not to vote.
But despite such threats, the narrow dirt tracks of Kampot were jammed with voters clutching their voter registration cards and walking distances of seven miles or more to reach a polling station.
"It's important for me to vote, but I was afraid at first," said 19-year-old Khin Han, who walked four miles to vote. "I think after the election Cambodia will change. I really want peace."
"People are coming from quite far away," said Grela Albert, U.N. polling supervisor at this remote outpost, which was guarded by French Foreign Legionnaires because of Sunday's Khmer Rouge attack. "People are continuing to walk in despite the heavy rains."
A French noncommissioned officer, who asked not to be named, said he was called to the rescue of the captured U.N. election truck and found it in the hands of 15 Khmer Rouge soldiers, some of whom he recognized from last year, when he served as a liaison with the guerrilla group.
The Khmer Rouge tried to steal his weapons but left without being able to start the captured truck or remove a cab-mounted Browning .50-caliber machine gun when government troops advanced on the town in force.