Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Direct Attack on UNTAC

Direct Attack on UNTAC

Direct Attack on UNTAC

The shelling and small-arms fire attack that claimed the lives of two UNTAC electoral

employees in Siem Reap has presented UNTAC with the second of two "firsts"

to take place in recent weeks. The deaths of these two Cambodian women are the first

deaths resulting from a direct attack on UNTAC personnel. Previously, members of

the Bangladeshi Battalion and an electoral team were forced to evacuate Svay Leu

district in Siem Reap due to heavy shelling over Christmas and New Year's, in the

first direct atttack on an UNTAC position.

Both attacks resulted in the destruction of buildings used by UNTAC. Both attacks

occurred in the province of Siem Reap. That's where the similarities between these

two incidents end.

No group has been identified as the perpetrators of the more recent attack, which

took place in the village of Angkron and claimed the lives of the two electoral registrars

and a seven-year-old girl. Conflicting stories reported by the people at the scene

of the attack add to the confusion concerning the possible motives.

What is known for certain is that a group of assailants armed with AK-47's and B-40

rocket launchers intitiated a direct attack on UNTAC personnel. Witnesses reported

that the attackers, who were of "mixed" uniforms, first shot at the tents

that housed the electoral registrars, then proceeded across the street and fired

rockets at Japan House, the residence of five Japanese CivPol's, all of whom were

on leave in Bangkok at the time. That house was burned to the ground. The attackers

then passed the district electoral office and went to India House where some of them

entered and made off with a television, $1000 and a passport. An Indian CivPol was

grazed in the head by a bullet as he and four others fled the house.

A Ghanaian member of CivPol reported that he was alone in his bedroom in Ghana House

and was wounded as he held with both hands the latch of the door, in an effort to

bar the entrance of one of the gunmen. When the gunman shot at the lock, a bullet

blew off his right thumb, and penetrated deeper into his arm, and another bullet

passed through his left wrist.

The exact sequence of these events is not clear. Some, such as the destruction of

Japan House and the wounding of the Indian CivPol may have occured simultaneously.

No single witness was able to report on all of them.

The attack itself lasted approximately half an hour.

There were rumors that a Khmer woman was with Sgt. Adema, the Ghanaian CivPol, at

the time he was wounded. Adema insists that he was alone and denies that he, or any

other CivPol's, have Khmer girlfriends.

Another witness reported that before shooting at the tents that resulted in the deaths

of the two electoral registrars, the attackers demanded to see one of the female

electoral workers, and the Khmer landlord of the three CivPol residences. When neither

person was available, the shooting began.

"The incident at the village of Angkron was unmistakably, unequivocally, directed

toward UNTAC personnel and property," says Mr. Benny Widyono, the UNTAC Provincial

Director of Siem Reap. "They knew exactly where the UNTAC women slept, and the

residences of the CivPol's. In other words, they attacked the heart of the UNTAC

presence in that village." Widyono also noted that it was the first attack against

UNTAC to be carried out by foot soldiers, in an area considered to be controlled

by CPAF.

"This sets that attack apart from the attack on Svay Leu, which fits more into

the pattern of your conventional cease-fire violation, whereby the DK initiated shelling,"

he added referring to the first direct attack against UNTAC. In this case, the identity

of the attackers was never a question.

CivPol, UNMO, and Bangla-deshi Battalion members were shelled in Svay Leu district.

Like all district captials, Svay Leu is un-der CPAF control. But areas to the north,

east, and west are NADK controlled, and the road leading from the south is heavily

mined.

Shelling began within two days of the arrival of the electoral team A total of 22

shells were fired over four days, forcing an evacuation of the electoral team. Nine

members of the team chose to return to Svay Leu district three days later, when even

more intense shelling forced a second evacuation.

"We were told that they had pushed the NADK 14-15 kilometers north of our office,

and that we would be out of the range of the shelling - which was not true, this

information from the CPAF general," says Goran Bauge, one of two Swedish district

electoral supervisors in Svay Leu, sent to initiate voter registration. "Then

we also said that when the first round was coming in then we should be evacuated

immediately. That didn't happen neither, so we had 74 shells in total, in which 3

didn't burst."

According to Bauge, all 74 rounds fell within a 100 meter radius of the electoral

office in a four hour period, and were "meant to hurt." One shell hit the

new electoral office causing the roof to fall in destroying electoral kits and a

video camera, among other things.

"People had walked 5-10 kilometers just to register, and then when the shellng

started, everybody just fled," said Bauge. "Soon there was nobody left

in the village, except us, some CPAF soldiers, a few locals and the Bangbatt soldiers."

The electoral team had gathered their personal effects and was preparing to walk

out of range of the shelling when CPAF and NADK agreed to a one-hour long ceasefire

in which an evacuation could take place. A helicopter was forced to make two rapid

trips to Svay Leu from the district of Tayek within the hour, racing against both

the NADK deadline and nightfall. A total of 45 personnel, consisting of the nine

person electoral team, five CivPol's, four Military Observers, and 27 members of

Bangladeshi Battalion were safely evacuated.

Voter registration was subsequently ended in Svay Leu.

The significance of both precedent-setting attacks should not be underestimated.

For the first time, violence which had previously been directed toward opposition

political parties or toward the Vietnamese in Cambodia has been shifted towards UNTAC

personnel specifically.

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