SIEM REAP: On the evening of Sept. 7, two survivors of a mine explosion that had
ripped through their U.N. Land Cruiser lay wounded in Phum Nimit Field Dressing Station
mulling over the incident that had killed one their colleagues. One of them felt
certain that it was not just an accident.
Chim Pheakey, a 26 year old interpreter, lay prostrate racking his brain for an explanation
for his presentiment, that the day would end in catastrophe.
The UNMO (U.N. Military Observer) car in which he was traveling was on a routine
assignment followed by four Dutch marines in a Land Rover as a security measure.
Their mission was to monitor Operation Paymaster, a scheme to pay government troops
two months back salary, in an area close to Siem Reap town.
Chim did not have a tangible reason to worry because he knew the area well, but as
the Land Cruiser trundled on Route 66 north of Angkor Wat he imagined that "someone
hid in the bushes to shoot at the car."
Lt. Commander Song who had sat in the front passenger seat also had a qualm. His
concern was the time they set off to rendezvous with the paymaster. Song thought
it was too early. "We would normally do the route around 9 a.m.," he added.
Unfortunately, neither man expressed his misgivings to the team leader, Captain Corley,
who was driving them to their grim fate at 8:20 a.m. that morning.
Chim was adamant that "it wasn't an NADK mine." His certainty came from
his knowledge of the area and of "a district military hut 20 meters away."
Apparently, this struck a chord with Song, who was in an adjacent make-shift bed.
When the interpreter dismissed the idea that the Khmer Rouge laid the mine Song told
him about a "conflict" he had with a CAF commander in Peak Sneng village.
Chim thought this might provide him with another piece to his puzzle.
Chim did not know the cause of the alleged conflict as Song had not offered a reason
but he continued with the story that he heard:
The situation got heated and the CPAF officer allegedly slammed a Chinese made mine
and gun on a table and said to the Chinese UNMO angrily: "This is your mine
and your weapon. I have them everywhere in my country!"
Whether this symbolism can be construed as a threat, the interpreter was not absolutely
However, Chim thought it more than coincidence to see the same CAF commander at the
scene of the explosion.
Chim also said that Song had told him how the same government officer had followed
the car that day. Chim recalled everything with the bitterness of a wronged man.
An UNTAC official investigating the case said Song had made no official allegation
about any threat. He also denied the existence of CAF at the explosion site.
The interpreter was able to describe the rest of the episode quite vividly.
At approximately 8:20 a.m. the car approached a wooden bridge. Corley left the main
road to pass around a wooden bridge because it was too weak to take the weight of
Perhaps reticence stopped Chim from commenting on the "strange motorcycle tracks,
very close together" originating from the far side of the track and terminating
mid-way in the otherwise undisturbed soil.
Or he might have thought his fears were getting the better of him; since he had used
the pass numerous times before without a problem.
Whatever his reason, the speed at which it happened might not have given him the
chance to stop the disaster.
"I heard the explosion," Chim said as he relived his nightmare. The car
lifted three to four meters from the ground. After, I got a bad feeling in my stomach
and head when we landed," he said.
When the mutilated wreckage, now quite unrecognizable as the Toyota it once was,
came to rest, it landed upright facing the direction from where it had come.
The anti-tank mine had ripped through the length of the Land Cruiser like a butcher's
cleaver on a bull's carcass.
The interpreter fell unconscious for a couple of minutes. After reviving he said,
"I shook my head but saw nothing because of very dark smoke," [engulfing
Chim remembers Capt. Abrahams, from the Cameroons receiving first-aid from a medic
who formed part of a Dutch security team who had stopped their Land Rover about 40-50
meters behind them.
The other Dutch marines had assumed, incorrectly, that the Land Cruiser had been
attacked by a rocket and had prepared for an ambush.
One of them radioed for a medevac but because he was speaking in his own language
in a rather excited manner the senior UNMOs at their HQ in Siem Reap had to wait
some minutes for the Dutch company's base commander to repeat the message in English.
Meanwhile, the UNMOs slipped into auto-drive : Song said he tried three times to
call his senior officer back at Sector 2. He realized his efforts were in vain when
he saw the severed cord of the car radio.
The team leader, Corley, with blood streaming down his face talked on a hand set
to the Soviet Mi-17 that was flying quickly to the scene. Fortunately, he spoke with
Major Locke who told him "to keep the people from the car just in case there
were other mines."
Locke was worried that there could have been other mines in the locality that might
"detonate the helicopter."
He cited a case that had happened last year in a nearby district where a Civpol car
hit a mine and another police car directly behind drove around the site and got blown
up as well. The fast thinking Locke probably prevented further loss of life.
The helicopter, and afterwards, an ambulance plus three other vehicles arrived to
administer the safe evacuation by helicopter of the four victims to a high-tech Dutch
Field Dressing Station in Phum Nimit near Poipet.
Capt. Abrahams who had been sitting over the left rear wheel which hit the mine was
pronounced dead on arrival.
If you can use the word unlucky in such tragic circumstances, then the Cameroonian
was particularly so, since the front wheels have the highest risk of detonating land
Moreover, he was on temporary assignment in Siem Reap as they were under-manned.
Corley had minor shrapnel wounds and was flown to the German Field Hospital in Phnom
Penh for further observation. Chim and Song sustained only light bruising but stayed
overnight at Phum Nimit.
Song felt sorry for the Cameroon captain who died but did not seem so optimistic
about his own future: He quoted a Chinese saying which states that "bad things
don't come alone-there will be a second time."
He said this with all seriousness. He has a lot of faith in the Chinese way. In fact,
when he arrived at the hospital he "refused everything at the hospital. I believe
in Chinese medicine," he stated proudly.