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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - With a Little Help From the Troops

With a Little Help From the Troops

SIHANOUKVILLE - Lt. Col. Bob Adolph is a man with a mission. If he had enough time

or if his current activities to beef up UNTAC's Civic Action programs had been started

from the day the U.N. arrived in Cambodia, there is no telling what the final outcome

of his determination to help the Cambodian people might have been and, more importantly,

what impact his efforts might have had on the U.N.'s own larger mission in Cambodia.

On Mar. 1 Adolph, an American U.N. Military Observer, was appointed by Gen. Sanderson

to be UNTAC's Civic Action Coordinator.

With the peace process continuing to unravel and even the May elections now in jeopardy

many would label Adolph's efforts "too little, too late."

But Adolph is someone who sees the glass half full and he would no doubt defend his

work in the "better late than never" school of thought.

Loosely defined, UNTAC views civic action as "those activities conducted by

the military that provide assistance to the local population" with the additional

caveat that they be undertaken-preferably-with the assistance of local people, civil

administration and NGOs.

Even though UNTAC has no specific mandate to undertake civic action, many military

components have made efforts to help local communities on their own since arriving

in-country. Adolph's appointment is a more determined reflection of UNTAC's recognition

that more can and should be done in this area.

Armed with civic action pamphlets, Adolph now shuttles between Phnom Penh and the

various military sector headquarters explaining the purposes of the newly-established

Civic Action Cell and exploring possibilities for how UNTAC soldiers can help Cambodians.

His visit to Sihanoukville last week to meet with the French battalion was just one

of his almost thrice-weekly hops around the country.

The French, for their part, did not wait for UNTAC to decide that civic action was

a high priority. According to Col. Menard, Deputy Commander of the French Foreign

Legion battalion, the concept of helping local people is part and parcel of the French

military tradition and both the Legionnaires and the French Paratroopers before them

have been reaching out to help Cambodians.

"It's the Foreign Legion tradition," said Menard. "We carry a rifle

in one hand and a pick in the other."

Menard said that each Legionnaire company has been ordered to carry out one civic

action project a month.

Efforts are targeted in three areas: providing medical assistance, building or repairing

schools and repairing roads and bridges. The results to date are not insignificant.

Since Dec. 1 the Legionnaire medical teams have treated over 15,000 Cambodians for

health problems ranging from simple infections to complicated surgical operations.

The hospital in Sihanoukville, after being rehabilitated by French troops, has been

equipped with an x-ray facility, laboratory and operating room.

More than 300 operations have been carried out in the last four months in a facility

that was only handling three a month previously.

Since UNTAC can not provide medicines for non-UNTAC purposes such as this, the French

have made arrangements with the French Red Cross, Pharmacies Sans Frontieres and

their own family members back home such that a constant stream of medical supplies

are brought in-country to assist the French doctors with their work.

The French military fully realizes that their presence here is temporary and, with

this in mind, the doctors have been working closely with Cambodian counterparts to

provide medical training and upgrade treatment capabilities.

The Foreign Legion's engineers have also been busy. Over 100 bridges have been repaired

or reconstructed and more that 20 kilometers of road surfaces have been refurbished

throughout the sector. In the process of doing so French engineers have located and

destroyed about 10 mines per week since UNTAC's arrival.

Col. Menard took Adolph to see one of the Legionnaires' pet projects in Sihanoukville.

Arriving at an orphanage on the outskirts of town, Menard is greeted by an excited

chorus of "bonjour, bonjour" as the 80 or so orphans rush out to meet one

of their favorite visitors. Many of the kids reach for the burly colonel's hand in

an open expression of affection and gratitude for all the help the French have provided.

Menard's wife back in France, along with many other Foreign Legion spouses, provide

funds, which are channelled through the Association pour le Parentage des Enfants

au Cambodge to lend regular support for the orphanage.

The Legionnaires themselves have donated both time and material to help construct

dormitories and classrooms.

With battalions as active as that of the French Foreign Legion what role, one might

ask, does that leave for Bob Adolph?

"Hopefully what I can do is facilitate increased support to existing and new

activities," says Adolph.

"I'm trying to bring a little more order to the process," he adds, while

noting that the best thing UNTAC can do is to support NGO activities because they

will be here for the long run.

Without a budget to support civic action Adolph has also added fund-raising to his

job description. To date he has secured $50,000 from a U.N. agency to support school

refurbishment.

Allotments of $5,000 each are being channelled to sector military components who

in turn will each select one school to support. Discussions are also underway with

UNHCR to secure funds to purchase and distrubute 100,000 mosquito nets.

"There's a group in the U.S. that wants to donate 24 tons of medical supplies,"

says Adolph. "Cathay Pacific has agreed to fly the stuff free of charge to Bangkok.

What I'm doing is to see if they can fly it to Malaysia, and then get the MalayBatt

to fly it up to Phnom Penh. From there I'll figure out a way to get the trucks to

deliver it to NGOs in the provinces."

Adolph says he gets a new proposal on his desk every day. "We got another one

from a Catholic organization that helps the handicapped. They need some holes dug

to make fish ponds," he notes. "I'm sure I can find some equipment to help

them out."

With all the bad press UNTAC has received on soldiers misbehaving, with, as Adolph

admits, the historical animosity that NGOs have had towards the military and with

a security situation that has become increasingly dangerous in recent weeks, one

might wonder if Adolph wouldn't prefer a quieter desk job at UNTAC headquarters.

"Hey, I've got the best job in Cambodia," he boasts with a smile. "It's

great!"

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