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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - UNMOs Powerless to Protect Ethnic Vietnamese

UNMOs Powerless to Protect Ethnic Vietnamese

SIEM REAP - The massacre of unarmed ethnic Vietnamese of Phum Chong Kneas on the

Tonle Sap in Siem Reap province came as no surprise to U.N. naval observers in the

area or the villagers themselves. In fact, the attack had been expected for a month

and U.N. officials in Phnom Penh informed. But the U.N. and the victims were powerless

to prevent it according to both sources.

U.N. Human Rights chief Dennis McNamara described the massacre as "a tragic

repetition" of the atrocities carried out by the Khmer Rouge between 1975 and

1979 and pledged to get U.N. patrols stepped up.

But the chief of Siem Reap's U.N. naval observers, Capt. Gary Boyd said last week

they are unable to protect the Vietnamese from future attacks. The villagers, who

had their own guns confiscated by State of Cambodia (SOC) officials when UNTAC arrived

promising peace, have now fled the area in terror.

"We are here on a peacekeeping not...internal security mission," head of

UNTAC'S almost 16,000 strong military component Lt. Gen. Sanderson said during a

visit to Siem Reap two days after the massacre.

Responding to a question on whether the U.N. could prevent future attacks, he said

even the SOC which had tens of thousands more troops than UNTAC couldn't stop such

attacks.

Naval observers in Siem Reap stepped up patrols of the Tonle Sap last month when

Khmer Rouge guerrillas, believed to be from 980 Division, were first sighted near

Kampong Phlok, a Khmer fishing village 16 kilometers east of Phum Chong Kneas, in

the vain hope their presence might deter an attack on the Vietnamese.

"About a month ago we heard a rumor that there would be an attack on the Vietnamese

village so we did patrols that night but nothing came of it," Capt. Boyd said

last week.

"How do you protect them? Do you put them in a compound with armed guards around

it? It's a very hard situation for us to be in," he said.

"My job here is to observe and report back and that's it."

Naval observers who got wind of an impending attack have been instructed to do little

more than observe, a U.N. source said.

Five days after the massacre in Siem Reap, 170 families fled Chong Kneas in fear

of their lives to seek sanctuary in Kbal Taol another Vietnamese floating village

in Battambang province. U.N. naval observers then received information there would

be an attack on Kbal Taol so they took three boats and four armed Bangladeshi soldiers

out for an all night patrol, but no attack came.

According to Boyd, even if they had been on patrol with the armed Bangladeshis ,

they couldn't have prevented the attack.

"The Bangladeshis are there to protect us," he said, adding that he didn't

think the U.N. should get involved in trying to provide full scale protection for

the Vietnamese.

"History has shown too many examples where it's backfired on the force that's

trying to do it. They (the U.N.) could get drawn into something they didn't plan,"

added Boyd.

Following perceived threats to Kbal Taol, 400 ethnic Vietnamese families including

the 170 originally from Chong Kneas have now fled southwest to Kompong Luong.

The assistant superintendent of the U.N. civilian police in Siem Reap, Inspector

Michael McAuley, refused to comment on whether the U.N. could have prevented this

attack, but said his team were meeting with other components of the U.N. "examining

how to prevent a future attack."

"The prevention and protection of peoples lives is to be of concern to all of

us whether we're in Cambodia or anywhere else in the world," he said.

McNamara visited Chong Kneas two days after the attack and said he would lobby for

some special U.N. assistance for the victims.

"The ethnic violence is an equal threat to this (peace) process as the political

violence," he said.

The Chong Kneas massacre left at least 33 people dead including two of the attackers

and 24 wounded.

A CivPol report said the attackers, who arrived in boats armed with AK-47's, B40

rocket launchers and machine guns, opened fire on the village at about 8.30 p.m.

on Mar. 10.

According to witness reports, the first killings took place in the floating "video

hall" where around 40 people were gathered watching a movie. Seventeen people

were killed there including seven members of the hall owner's family. The attackers

then ransacked the boat looting the video recorder and gold jewelry from dead bodies.

Several other houseboats also came under attack, and were ransacked and looted of

everything from money to jewelry and clothes. One family, who lost a child and had

several members wounded, also had 200,000 riel stolen while a second family lost

nine of 12 members and had three dumlongs of gold stolen.

"The sole motive of the attack seems to have been to terrorize and to kill,"

U.N. spokesman Eric Falt said.

U.N. naval observers arrived on the scene about 8 a.m. the day after the attack.

"We arrived at the shore side and there were longtails coming in, we saw three

coffins coming into shore," Capt. Boyd said.

"We went into the video hall and a large amount of people were there, one body

was outside and three bodies inside and they were starting to build coffins. It was

set up a bit like a little mortuary."

"Most of the information we got was from eyewitnesses and one of the boat drivers

from Kampong Phlok," Boyd continued.

Witnesses told the naval observers the attackers were Khmer Rouge and came from the

east.

"All we have learned is that the DK attacked a Vietnamese village...now we know

they mean what they say," said Boyd.

"They must have known we'd find out [it was them]. It just shows they are not

really concerned what we think or what the international community thinks,"

Boyd added.

And Insp. Michael McAuley says there's little hope of bringing the attackers to justice

conceding there is a "very slim chance of identifying the individuals within

the faction responsible."

If they are Khmer Rouge guerrillas inside Khmer Rouge zones, he says there is no

chance of arresting them unless they are handed over by leaders of their own faction-an

unlikely scenario.

"It's frustrating but that's life as a policeman. Often you know the perpetrators

but...It's the same all over the world."

But McAuley still clings to that slim chance they will identify the individuals and

says that keeps him working.

"If we didn't I don't think we'd be pursuing (the investigation) to the level

we are," he said.

"If you go down that road where bringing people to justice was not possible

the investigation would be futile," he said.

At a SOC press conference the week after the massacre, Phnom Penh Government spokesman,

Khieu Kanharith said an international court should be set up to prosecute "everybody

guilty of these kinds of racial killings."

"This is a systematic killing based on the racial hate on racial grounds,"

he said.

The local villagers are asking for protection from the government or UNTAC, as they

are unarmed and therefore unable to protect themselves.

Local Cambodians say the Vietnamese of Chong Kneas were heavily armed before UNTAC

came pledging to bring peace, as were the Cambodian fishermen in Kampong Phlok.

But since the Khmer Rouge took advantage of the cantonment of Phnom Penh government

troops to increase their territory, they now have access to areas previously unaccessible

before the signing of the peace agreement and people in these areas are now under

threat.

Since early last month UNTAC military and naval observers have reported sighting

Khmer Rouge guerillas 15 kilometers northwest, 15 kilometers southwest, 15 kilometers

southeast and 40 kilometers northeast of Siem Reap town.

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