The recent arrival of Japa-nese troops in Cambodia has been more than matched by
a tidal wave of journalists who are now scouring the countryside looking for a good
story. The Gecko notes that while the boys from Nippon are so far behaving with propriety,
some of the foreign hacks could use a bit of disciplining themselves.
One report from Kompong Som has it that a distinguished member of the press corps
tried unsuccessfully to bribe a brothel owner so that a bevy of prostitutes would
await with open arms the arrival of the first contingent of Japanese engineers. It
would have made for a great photo, the Gecko was told.
Undaunted, the seasoned scribe-never at a loss for ways to spice up the news-just
happened to have his own Japanese flag, one harking back to the days when the Japanese
navy ruled most of the Pacific. As the troops were about to disembark, the flag was
given to a Khmer child standing on the dock. Not to miss out on any chance to capture
"the truth," more than a dozen photographers rushed up to take the tot's
picture, which likely played on front pages all over Japan.
When Prince Sihanouk, Akashi and more Japanese troops arrived at Pochentong last
week the press corps, at times, seemed like a pack of wild dogs. Pushing, shoving
and a few too many elbows in colleagues' ribs are apparently the prerequisites for
getting the news back home. One local scribe was literally mauled as the press pack
pounced on Prince Sihanouk before he departed, with her wristwatch ripped off her
arm in the melee.
No one ever said that being a journalist was an easy job but a Post reporter is still
shaking his head over an incident last week. Minding his own business while pedalling
through town, the cyclist was blind-sided by an UNTAC police vehicle taking a right-hand
turn and forced off the road.
Perhaps a simple enough mistake, but when the reporter encouraged a little more caution
on the road, the UNTAC policeman took offense. A chase ensued and the policeman proceeded
to race after the bicyclist all over town, forcing him off the road three times,
while at one point shouting "I'll get you."
An official complaint was filed with UNTAC military police but, when followed up
two days later, the word was "We have no way of finding the vehicle. Come back
The Gecko hears that UNTAC pilots flying into Stung Treng are a bit on edge these
days. While commercial flights were cancelled at the end of August because the runway
was in such a sad state, the U.N. is still making daily landings. According to a
Frenchman who makes the run up north regularly, planes fly over the landing strip
once before setting down to see if there are any new potholes. The pilot mused nervously,
"It may take a plane crash before anything is done about it."
Speaking of flight information, the Gecko notes that the code used for flights by
S.K. Air is "DK" which also happens to be the commonly-used abbreviation
of the Khmer Rouge's official name.
There's been an administrative shuffle in Trebeng Meanchey, the capital of Preah
Vihear Province. Up until last week the town was included as part of Sector III,
under the control of the Pakistani battalion. For some unexplained reason a shift
was made so that it is now part of Sector IV, which is controlled by the Uruguayans.
The local citizenry may be a bit confused but at least they're happier. The Uruguayans'
first act upon arrival was to set up a water treatment plant and distribute clean
water to one and all, something the locals haven't had in who knows how many years.
The U.N. is attempting to show its best face around town. A memo posted on office
walls advises UNTAC staff not to "park in front of areas of ill repute"
as it is "bad for the image of the U.N. and morale of UNTAC personnel."
With 161 cases of sexually transmitted diseases reported by UNTAC personnel during
the month of September, this one may be hard to enforce.
The Gecko heard an interesting story from a Malaysian businessman the other day.
Apparently, while negotiating a deal with a Phnom Penh official, the Cambodian principal
mused how he "already had an American Express card but would really like to
have a Mastercard." The deal was signed-it included a new credit card with unlimited
use and no responsibility for paying the bills.