B ELGIAN deminer Jeanpierre Michel was under fire after he unilaterally organized
a leaflet-drop purporting to help find three missing Westerners in Preah Vihear.
Using a Royal Cambodian Air Force Mi-8 helicopter marked with red
crosses, he dropped 50,000 leaflets on remote mainly Khmer Rouge-held jungle
just south of the northern border with Thailand.
The leaflets were
intended to help find the whereabouts of Belgian couple Michel and Nathalie
Baran and Briton Robert Burndred, who was newly announced as missing along with
an unnamed Thai girlfriend.
But instead of asking villagers to pass
information on to authorities, the leaflets told them to ring Michel at the
Cambodiana Hotel in Phnom Penh or phone the Brussels office of his organization
IDAS, which translates as International Danger and Disaster
The nearest land phone lines to Preah Vihear on the Cambodian
side of the border are nearly 200 km away in Siem Reap. Even if villagers had
easy access to phones they would be unlikely to be able to afford calls to the
capital, let alone internationally.
Sources closes to the investigation
into the missing Belgians dismissed Michel's mission as a publicity stunt
intended to curry favor with the Royal Government which is under international
pressure to clear up the cases.
The former French Foreign Legion captain
said his sole task in Cambodia was to organize the leaflet drop, though sources
said he had been seeking to arrange demining contracts with the Royal
On July 20, the same morning as Michel flew up north, word
reached Phnom Penh of a new report by Thai military authorities investigating
the cases, which indicated none of the three had crossed the border into
The source close to the investigation said: "The report said
their disappearance is linked to commercial enterprises, antiquities deals,
which went wrong and are feared dead. The Khmer Rouge are not involved at
Before flying north Michel defended the mission saying: "It is
another step forward to try and establish contact. He admitted the initiative
had not been sanctioned by the families of the missing and described it as
However he was unable to supply details of the
missing Briton Burndred, saying only he had "heard rumors about
Details of Burndred's disappearance in January were released on the
same day as the flight.
Economist Baran, 31, who worked at the UN's
regional headquarters Escap in Bangkok, disappeared along with Nathalie, 21, on