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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - The Gecko: 25 September 1992

The Gecko: 25 September 1992

The Gecko: 25 September 1992

The Gecko caught a few wry smiles and peeved frowns at the airport recently. The

much-debated, long awaited arrival of Japanese military forces back in Southeast

Asia, after almost a half-century hiatus, left many waiting for them at Pochentoeng

last Sunday with a "Huh, what happened?" To the disappointment of all present,

they didn't show up at the appointed time.

Rather, the eight Japanese U.N. Military Obserevers (UNMOs) jumped schedule and arrived

earlier in the day. Eric Falt, UNTAC press spokesperson, Dick Palk, UNTAC military

spokesperson and Mr. Kawa-kami from Akashi's office were left shaking their heads.

It's their job to know this stuff.

The Japanese UNMOs were supposed to disembark at 3 p.m. Sept. 20, on a Bangkok Airways

flight from Thailand. The date had been checked and re-checked probably more than

50 times in the previous ten days. The press had it marked on their calendars as

a must-attend for months, if not eons.

Rumors that every Japanese journalist on the face of the planet would come to cover

the momentous occasion were legion. It was told that half the Cambodiana Hotel had

been booked by the scribes and camera jocks from Nippon. Gecko sources in Tokyo mentioned

420 as the expected number of media hangers-on.

Most of the regular Japanese journalists in Phnom Penh were fully appraised of the

new plan. They showed up in force at the "right" time, which was 11:15

that morning.

There is no doubt now that the addition of Japanese troops to the UNTAC presence

is meant to be taken as a low key affair. It might have been lower if they'd shown

up on time.

The UNTAC navy contingent at Kratie has been getting some interesting mail lately.

They received a letter from the KR that said if they came back to a KR zone in the

area they would be killed. The pen pals also left a human skull on the fence outside

the office with the name of the UNTAC navymen's maid written on top.

UNTAC decided to call their bluff. When they went and talked to the KR on their turf,

the senior officer proceeded to vigorously deny sending any such message. Maybe the

KR has phone problems where they are too.

The Gecko heard from a provincial official in Svay Rieng about the latest indicator

of the UNTAC's impact on Cambodia. As announced by UNTAC itself, a number of babies

born are being named "Untac." It's been 11 months since the Peace Accords

were signed. The honeymoon period, while long since over, was a happy time for many.

The Khmer Rouge may not agree, but most people here reckon that Yasushi Akashi has

shown no favoritism in his dealings with the four factions. However, the foreign

media folks in-country are grumbling about unfair treatment of another faction-their


On a recent invitation-only trip by Akashi to Stung Treng, eight of the twelve seats

allotted to the press corps went to Japanese reporters, which included five based

at the U.N. headquarters in New York who were treated to meals and exclusive interviews.

It has also been learned that on more than one occasion Akashi has instructed the

UNTAC Press Office to find space on free chopper rides for the latest crop of Japanese

reporters to turn up in town.

On the subject of law and order the Gecko's heard of police operations against trafficking

of marijuana-a favorite spice for Cambodians, who concoct a delicious and mind-warming

chicken soup with the plant. The U.N. police have confiscated small consignments

of the weed from honest purveyors in the northeast.

"We're trying to find out what their law says on this," one well-informed

source said.

The lack of clear guidelines may have resulted in a new scar. A group of French soldiers

who, it appears, think the stuff should be banned, beat up an unfortunate western

toker after he offered them a joint in one of Phnom Penh's watering holes.

"C'est un petit bagarre," (It's just a small scuffle) noted a senior French

officer after the recent punchout, adding that the blue berets had been rapped on

the knuckles and told not to do it again.

Some local establishments, taking the law into their own hands, are a little more

subtle. La Pailotte restaurant has a sign on their door advising diners that marijuana

is not be smoked on the premises. Meanwhile, the long-popular Khmer food enhancer

is still available in the markets for about a buck a kilo.

Finally, the Gecko hears that each UNTAC battalion has its own ways of keeping the

peace. One of the friendly 800 out there in the bush is reporting back to mother

UNTAC in Phnom Penh that all is well.

However, those whose mission it is to watch over the whole process aren't so sure.

The U. N. battalion in question is reporting that patrols are regular and according

to the book. Others in the know say that the job isn't getting done. In fact, it's

been reported that the only thing getting patrolled are the troop's bivouacs themselves.

The Gecko was told that critical reports sent back through channels suggesting "better

ways" to implement the peace accords are getting scuttled in Phnom Penh before

they reach the top where, if it were known, action would most likely be taken.

On the flip side of UNTAC's unprecedented mandate involving representatives from

more than 50 countries, the Uruguayans have gotten some high marks for doing the

job right. They're dropping small teams in by helicopter all over Sector IV for several

days at a stretch who take the time to poke around and find out what's going on.

Not only are the boys showing the U.N. flag in some of Cambodia's remotest jungle

redoubts but the Gecko hears that they are well-liked.


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