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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Observers Held Hostage by Khmer Rouge

Observers Held Hostage by Khmer Rouge

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KPAF forces in the area and demanded that the KPAF forces be withdrawn before the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

the NADK."

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




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