Media reports have currently focused on the spate of stolen UNTAC cars as well as
those from other organizations. While a serious business that needs to be stopped
forthwith, one may raise an eye brow at some of the methods being put into practice.
Phnom Penh's main streets and hotels are now being scoured, after dark, by UNTAC
Military Police. Any UNTAC vehicle considered insecure is taken away-on the authority
of a recent internal instruction by the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary
Fair enough. But some of the zeal being shown by UNTAC Military Police is excessive.
A recent case in point is illustrative. On the night of 26 July, Military Police
visited the Royal Phnom Penh Hotel to check on UNTAC vehicles. Four cars were subsequently
driven away by the MPs without any warning being given to their unsuspecting users
sitting dining in the restaurant.
One person came out in the middle of "Operation Take-Away" just as her
car was being driven off. Understandably furious she demanded an explanation. Bureaucratic
logic took over. Her car was taken away because it was not "secure". How?
Because the MPs were able to open the door. What with, coat hanger wire? The incredulous
reply: a spare key! Then further justification was given.
No locking device had been placed on the steering wheel. A simple explanation: UNTAC's
Transport Section had not issued all and sundry with one because they were out of
All this took place in the premises of the hotel's private car park. A car park under
the direct supervision of paid security guards with guard dogs. An enclosed car park,
moreover, with a ticketing system in force whereby an entry ticket had to be returned
When the MPs proved implacable the original driver, to whom the vehicle had been
allocated, asked to retrieve personal effects from inside the car. Despite it including
expensive camera equipment, a computer and a personal medical kit, this was refused!
In addition, as punishment, she was told the vehicle would be impounded for 15 days
Outraged, the driver was finally but reluctantly allowed by the UNTAC civilian in
charge to collect her belongings. Then the car was driven away.
She was not the only one. Three other UNTAC vehicles were taken away at the same
time. Last week, not only did UNTAC's No 2 economist suffer the same ignominy but
two Human Rights officers, just down from the provinces endured the same experience.
The episode raises several questions both specific and general. Can MPs enter a private
parking compound in Phnom Penh without first-even as a matter of courtesy-alerting
the management? What would have happened if the security guards had prevented the
MP drivers from leaving: a "Shoot-out at the OK Corral"? Does driving off
someone else's allocated car containing personal effects border on theft?
Surely an elementary precaution would either be to advise the erring driver of the
need to remove them first or formally recognize their existence before, what amounts
to confiscation? If this is not done would such impounded possessions in cars be
covered by an UNTAclaims liability budget? Has the Transport Section data bank established
the license plate numbers of cars issued with a locking device so that only offenders
can be targeted?
UNTAC Human Rights have spent an enormous amount of time and effort alerting Cambodians
on how to protect themselves from the "policies and practices of the past".
Maximum impact of an alien message can be buttressed through teaching by example.
Even if the growing car thefts call for drastic methods, the "Human Rights"
of UNTAC personnel should be respected!
- Robin Davies