The result of a postmortem on a Bulgarian soldier serving with UNTAC said suicide
despite two gunshot wounds, one bullet piercing his heart from the front, the other
his lungs from the side.
This was just one of the fatalities on a list issued by the UN where many of the
entries are not as straight-forward as the sheet purports. Some officials believe
many of the casualties may have been direct, or indirect, victims of stress, the
A definition of stress is the physiological tension which arises when a person fails
to adapt to their environment.
Some of the individuals sent on the mission were ill-equipped for walking the psychological
minefields of Cambodia. They found, to their cost, that the operation was ill-equipped
to help them.
Official sources suggest there have been three suicides and 56 repatriations on psychological
grounds. One can only surmise how stress drove anyone to kill themselves or, perhaps,
Doctors here have said that many soldiers believing they had left their problems
at home have, unintentionally, brought their emotional baggage with them.
One Polish soldier hanged himself, apparently when his wife threatened to leave him
if he did not return. There are many cases of girlfriends and spouses threatening
to break up relationships.
A Filipino civilian policeman shot himself following a supposed argument with a colleague
in Banteay Meanchey .
The third suicide happened in the victim's home country. A French doctor evidently
took a drug overdose. Her behavior prior to the event showed "an unbalanced
personality" suffering from sharp mood swings, according to a close colleague
A Bulgarian sergeant played a cranky version of Russian Roulette with a local police
officer's gun after a heavy night's drinking and died instantly.
If the initial signs, such as anti-social behavior and aggression, are not recognized
early on then symptoms could worsen and sloppiness in work and personal hygiene might
ensue. Psychosomatic syndromes such as dietary problems could be another scenario.
UNTAC's Chief Medical Officer, Col. Dr. Peter Fraps, cited the media's affect on
troop morale. "As in the Vietnam war, the moment the soldiers thought their
home country was not convinced about their involvement they developed problems. The
media said the [Cambodian] mission would fail, but when the elections succeeded,
motivation returned," he said.
Many of the repatriations for psychological reasons were Bulgarian. Fraps believes
they found it difficult to deal with Cambodia.
"It was the first time for them to operate as a military component. The [new-found]
liberty and personal freedom created a lot of problems for the soldiers. They found
it hard to integrate," he maintains.
From his experience and from the data he collected in his 16 months, he strongly
recommends that before future missions U.N. personnel should have stress prevention
courses, preferably in their own countries.
One suggestion is to end home leave and to have maxmimum six month assignments for
Those who went home found less inducement to work on their return while many counted
the days until their next leave or to the end of their assignment.
Fraps, ideally, would like each person to take a psychological test before leaving
their country to weed out those who are "fleeing problems at home and who think
they'll be okay if they're far away."
The German Ministry of Defense has now requested the University of Marburg in Germany
to compile a concrete method of tallying psychological data.
They came up with a 37 page questionnaire that deals with personal affairs from finances
to fears. But Fraps believes much more needs to be done and would like to see all
the U.N. nations contributing data.
He hopes that in the next few years the U.N. will have the right criteria to select
the most suitable people for missions.