After being held hostage for three nights, six UnitedNations Military Observers were
released on Dec. 4 by National Army of Democratic Kampuchea (NADK-Khmer Rouge) forces
on the Steung Sen River following some brief yet tense negotiations.
The capture and detention of the UNMOs was the first time any faction has held overnight
any U.N. personnel since the signing of the Paris peace accords in October 1991 and
the arrival of the U.N. Transitional Authority in Cambodia's 22,000 member force.
The six unarmed observers were not harmed during what their leader said was "our
stay with the NADK," although warning shots were fired upon the group as they
made their way up the river in inflatable Zodiac crafts on what was described as
a "routine observation mission" to determine the number and activities
of KPAF and NADK forces in that area.
The six were taken off the river by NADK forces at midday on Dec. 1 and held at the
remote village of Prey Kunlong, 20 kilometers west of Kompong Thom. The party of
UNMOs travelling in two Zodiacs passed several KPAF checkpoints along the river,
earning a warning shot from one.
But the boats pressed on and as they passed the second NADK checkpoint shots were
again fired and one boat settled ashore. After a brief interaction, the second boat
put ashore and the UNMOs were forcibly detained-one day after the United Nations
Security Council declared trade sanctions against the Khmer Rouge for their continual
refusal to participate in the peace-making process in this country.
The sanctions include a ban on petroleum products for the Khmer Rouge, the possible
freezing of Khmer Rouge assets held outside of Cambodia, establishing border checkpoints,
and a ban on Khmer Rouge-controlled exports of logs and gems.
At first the local NADK commander, a Major Ngon, claimed the UNMOs were spying for
KPAF forces in the area and demanded that the KPAF forces be withdrawn before the
hostages would be released.
The U.N. refused to accept any negotiating stance and appealed to NADK liaison officers
in Phnom Penh and the Khmer Rouge jungle headquarters at Pailin for assistance in
freeing the UNMOs.
The UNMOs included three Britons-Lt. Col. Mark Walton, Lt. Peter Verny, Capt. Jamie
Williams-two Filipinos-chief petty officers Jose Almirante and Blandino Mones-and
one New Zealander, chief petty officer John Oxenham.
The UNMOs were released after a U.N. Indonesian officer delivered a written order
to Maj. Ngon from his Khmer Rouge superiors instructing him to release the hostages.
"Initially, it appeared to be a local decision," to hold the UNMOs, Walton
reported upon his return to Phnom Penh and speaking with reporters at Pochentong
Airport. "After that, he [Maj. Ngon] had to consult with higher authorities
as we became their 'guests'," Walton added.
The six were held in a small hut and their captors warned them "that the village
was heavily mined, they said the river was mined, and we saw Claymores about,"
said Walton, who added that the weapons he saw-including AK-47s and RPG rocket launchers-were
"immaculately clean, well-oiled and in good working order."
"We were allocated a little guest house for the duration of our stay,"
said Walton, although he and his team members were short on rations, radio batteries
and mosquito nets-and were harassed by fleas. "I have about 100 flea bites on
my legs and bottom-not a pretty sight," Walton added.
After the UNMOs' release, the NADK issued a statement that read, in part, that the
UNMOs were captured because they had "infiltrated, spied, taken photos and located
coordinates on a map so as to assist the Vietnamese and Phnom Penh faction in attacking
In a statement issued following the UNMOs' release, the U.N. Secretary-General's
Special Representative Yasushi Akashi said, "I must stress that the NADK acted
quite wrongly in detaining the observers in the first place. UNTAC is an impartial
international body whose mandate is to work with all four Cambodian parties and other
signatories of the Paris agreements to bring peace and democracy to Cambodia through
free and fair elections."
A source based in Phnom Penh familiar with the operations of UNMOs said he was wasn't
sure why the six UNMO's went so far up the Steung Sen River.
"On the face of it, does seem provocative to simply run up the river like that,"
said the source who spoke only under the condition of anonymity. "Of course
it is the charge of all military observers to monitor troop movements and activities,
but not so closely that one becomes a captive or a casualty."
- Contributing Mang Channo, Kathleen Hayes, Ker Munthit, Tom McCarthy, and Doug