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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Strictly Neutral

Strictly Neutral

Strictly Neutral


Thank you for John C. Brown's penetrating article ''(Supra-?) Nationalism'' (PPP,

30 July 1993), which suggests "nationalist competition within the context of

an international mission".

The fundamental neutrality and impartiality of United Nations peacekeeping operations

is intended to be supported by their international makeup. Partisanship clearly undermines

this and it is important that these issues are raised for public scrutiny, as John

Brown has done.

I note that in the article the UNTAC Mixed Military Working Group (MMWG) seems to

have been drawn in by an "un-named source" as an element in the alleged

nationalist competition. Having had close contact with a number of the MMWG staff

for over one year now, I feel well-qualified to set the record straight on this particular


The MMWG was set up under the Paris Agreements "with a view to resolving problems

that may arise in the observance of the cease-fire".

However, due to the problems in the peace process, which need no further elaboration

here, the MMWG and its secretariat have had their roles extended to address a wide

range of problem solving, negotiating and policy-development activities with respect

to the armed forces of Cambodian Parties signatory to the Paris Agreements.

Its members have been tireless in their efforts to build confidence among the Parties

in order to advance the peace process. New approaches have been constantly explored

in countless hours of negotiation, both in Phnom Penh and in the field. Volumes of

staff papers, proposals and letters on central issues have been prepared, translated

and distributed.

If these efforts never achieved the sought-after breakthrough to the intended quadripartite

implementation of the Paris Agreements, at least they helped define the Parties'

positions to allow the right judgments to be made by United Nations officials in

Phnom Penh and New York, and through them, in the capitals of those countries actively

supporting the UNTAC operation.

More recently, by bringing together the Chiefs of the General Staff of the armed

forces of the three Cambodian Signatory Parties which supported the UNTAC-sponsored

election, the MMWG sought to assist in providing stability in the somewhat politically

ambiguous post-election period. In so doing, there can be little doubt that the MMWG

has been a positive and constructive influence.

With respect to its staffing, as raised by the "un-named source", I understand

that this was decided by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations in the UN Secretariat

early in 1992.

If it seems to have an "Asian" make up, this is perhaps simply a reflection

of greater Asian involvement in this important mission in Asia, when compared with

other missions set up at other times in other parts of the world. It is important

to note however, that the MMWG has also included Europeans, Africans and Latin Americans

as well as Asians. In this respect it does seem a fairly typical U.N. body. All are

hard-working and have formed an effective team which has tried its best to contribute

to the peace effort.

The most significant thing which has struck me about the MMWG is the emphasis its

staff have placed on neutrality and integrity in their activities. Any hint of partisanship,

whether national or with respect to the Cambodian factions, has been scrupulously

avoided. Service to the international community generally and Cambodia in particular

has been repeatedly stressed. In view of this, it is abundantly clear that the allegations

by the "un-named source" of national or Asian bias in the MMWG are completely

without foundation and are irrelevant.

I also have difficulty with the suggestion of the "un-named source" that

France, in particular, has somehow been excluded from an "Asian" MMWG club.

As I recall, the television footage I have seen of MMWG meetings showed senior UNTAC

officers present, including many from France, and earlier meetings also saw representatives

from the Phnom Penh diplomatic community in attendance. I understand that the meeting

papers were widely distributed and accessible.

Further, one wonders why the presence or not of United Nations personnel from particular

countries in the UNTAC MMWG should be an issue at all. Would the "un-named source"

have had his nationals serve other than impartial UNTAC objectives? If that were

to be so, their presence would certainly have been inappropriate. In any case, it

would not seem to provide any basis for an argument that entry into bilateral relations

with the Provisional Government was required at an early date to head off competition

from an "Asian" country whose nationals might be present in the MMWG, as

the "un-named source" suggests.

Since it is likely that most of the assistance packages to the Cambodian Government

will be bilateral, any details, including their timing, are issues for the judgment

of the sovereign states involved, which must then accept full responsibility for

them. They are not matters to be influenced by the impartial work of the UNTAC MMWG.

- Dorothy McCulloch


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