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The Remaining Right Side of the Buddha
Part 7: Good News From the Front

Monday - May 24, 1993

The following day's news brought more positive signs. Despite all their threats, many Khmer Rouge rebels were among the voters at polling stations near Khmer Rouge controlled regions. Startled UN officials reported that hundreds of Cambodians, including Khmer Rouge officials, had left rebel-held areas in the northwest walking to polling stations in order to participate in the voting. The director of the election, Reginald Austin of Zimbabwe, expressed his surprise saying, "I don't know why it's happened but I'm just very glad that it has happened. It completely contradicts the situation that we expected."

Although no one outside of the Khmer Rouge knew the group's true intentions, diplomats speculated that the rebels believed that Funcinpec had a good chance of winning the election and that an opposition victory would give the Khmer Rouge the opportunity to join a coalition government. Before the Khmer Rouge dropped out of the peace pact, the United Nations had provided voter registration cards to thousands of people in rebel-controlled areas, including soldiers. Later reports indicated that the Khmer Rouge had confiscated the cards and destroyed them. Apparently the cards were not destroyed and had now been returned to the people enabling them to vote.

Jack's condition was much improved. Not only was he up and about but he even started talking about going to see the Angkor ruins outside of Siem Reap. The temple ruins are the very reason that most people are drawn to the country. I had long dreamed of seeing this fabled place but had considered it out of the question during this visit. Siem Reap is in the northwestern province of the same name. The province extends from the shore of the Tonlé Sap north to the border with Thailand and had been a hotbed of Khmer Rouge attacks.

The first leg of the standard overland route from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap was typically done by train - from Phnom Penh to the northwestern city of Battambang. This train had been fired upon regularly over the months since the Khmer Rouge set their sights on disrupting the elections. Undertaking the journey by boat was also possible during more peaceful times. Now, however, this too, would be out of the question. Flying would be the only way.

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