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
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
"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
"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,"
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
"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,"
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
"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,"
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
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.