Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Belgian flies into trouble



Belgian flies into trouble

Belgian flies into trouble

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

Assistance.

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

Government.

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

Cambodia.

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

all."

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

"totally independent."

However he was unable to supply details of the

missing Briton Burndred, saying only he had "heard rumors about

it."

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

May 24.

MOST VIEWED

  • ‘Kingdom one of safest to visit in Covid-19 era’

    The Ministry of Tourism on January 12 proclaimed Cambodia as one of the safest countries to visit in light of the Kingdom having been ranked number one in the world by the Senegalese Economic Prospective Bureau for its success in handling the Covid-19 pandemic. In rankings

  • Ministry mulls ASEAN+3 travel bubble

    The Ministry of Tourism plans to launch a travel bubble allowing transit between Cambodia and 12 other regional countries in a bid to resuscitate the tourism sector amid crushing impact of the ongoing spread of Covid-19, Ministry of Tourism spokesman Top Sopheak told The Post on

  • Kingdom accepts Chinese vaccine, PM first to get jab

    Prime Minister Hun Sen said China would offer Cambodia an immediate donation of one million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine produced by the Sinopharm company. In an audio message addressing the public on the night of January 15, he said Cambodia has accepted the offer and

  • Reeling in Cambodia’s real estate sector

    A new norm sets the scene but risks continue to play out in the background A cold wind sweeps through the streets of Boeung Trabek on an early January morning as buyers and traders engage in commerce under bright blue skies. From a distance, the

  • PM asks India for vaccine help

    Prime Minister Hun Sen is seeking assistance from India for the provision of Covid-19 vaccines as the country has produced its own vaccine which is scheduled to be rolled out to more than 300 million Indians this year. The request was made during his meeting with

  • One million Chinese Covid-19 jabs to start rolling in from February

    The government has confirmed that Covid-19 vaccines from China are set to begin arriving in Cambodia by February. This came as the Ministry of Health recorded two imported cases of Covid-19 on January 18. While calling on people to remain vigilant against the pandemic, ministry spokeswoman