The Gecko caught a few wry smiles and peeved frowns at the airport recently. The
much-debated, long awaited arrival of Japanese military forces back in Southeast
Asia, after almost a half-century hiatus, left many waiting for them at Pochentoeng
last Sunday with a "Huh, what happened?" To the disappointment of all present,
they didn't show up at the appointed time.
Rather, the eight Japanese U.N. Military Obserevers (UNMOs) jumped schedule and arrived
earlier in the day. Eric Falt, UNTAC press spokesperson, Dick Palk, UNTAC military
spokesperson and Mr. Kawa-kami from Akashi's office were left shaking their heads.
It's their job to know this stuff.
The Japanese UNMOs were supposed to disembark at 3 p.m. Sept. 20, on a Bangkok Airways
flight from Thailand. The date had been checked and re-checked probably more than
50 times in the previous ten days. The press had it marked on their calendars as
a must-attend for months, if not eons.
Rumors that every Japanese journalist on the face of the planet would come to cover
the momentous occasion were legion. It was told that half the Cambodiana Hotel had
been booked by the scribes and camera jocks from Nippon. Gecko sources in Tokyo mentioned
420 as the expected number of media hangers-on.
Most of the regular Japanese journalists in Phnom Penh were fully appraised of the
new plan. They showed up in force at the "right" time, which was 11:15
There is no doubt now that the addition of Japanese troops to the UNTAC presence
is meant to be taken as a low key affair. It might have been lower if they'd shown
up on time.
The UNTAC navy contingent at Kratie has been getting some interesting mail lately.
They received a letter from the KR that said if they came back to a KR zone in the
area they would be killed. The pen pals also left a human skull on the fence outside
the office with the name of the UNTAC navymen's maid written on top.
UNTAC decided to call their bluff. When they went and talked to the KR on their turf,
the senior officer proceeded to vigorously deny sending any such message. Maybe the
KR has phone problems where they are too.
The Gecko heard from a provincial official in Svay Rieng about the latest indicator
of the UNTAC's impact on Cambodia. As announced by UNTAC itself, a number of babies
born are being named "Untac." It's been 11 months since the Peace Accords
were signed. The honeymoon period, while long since over, was a happy time for many.
The Khmer Rouge may not agree, but most people here reckon that Yasushi Akashi has
shown no favoritism in his dealings with the four factions. However, the foreign
media folks in-country are grumbling about unfair treatment of another faction-their
On a recent invitation-only trip by Akashi to Stung Treng, eight of the twelve seats
allotted to the press corps went to Japanese reporters, which included five based
at the U.N. headquarters in New York who were treated to meals and exclusive interviews.
It has also been learned that on more than one occasion Akashi has instructed the
UNTAC Press Office to find space on free chopper rides for the latest crop of Japanese
reporters to turn up in town.
On the subject of law and order the Gecko's heard of police operations against trafficking
of marijuana-a favorite spice for Cambodians, who concoct a delicious and mind-warming
chicken soup with the plant. The U.N. police have confiscated small consignments
of the weed from honest purveyors in the northeast.
"We're trying to find out what their law says on this," one well-informed
The lack of clear guidelines may have resulted in a new scar. A group of French soldiers
who, it appears, think the stuff should be banned, beat up an unfortunate western
toker after he offered them a joint in one of Phnom Penh's watering holes.
"C'est un petit bagarre," (It's just a small scuffle) noted a senior French
officer after the recent punchout, adding that the blue berets had been rapped on
the knuckles and told not to do it again.
Some local establishments, taking the law into their own hands, are a little more
subtle. La Pailotte restaurant has a sign on their door advising diners that marijuana
is not be smoked on the premises. Meanwhile, the long-popular Khmer food enhancer
is still available in the markets for about a buck a kilo.
Finally, the Gecko hears that each UNTAC battalion has its own ways of keeping the
peace. One of the friendly 800 out there in the bush is reporting back to mother
UNTAC in Phnom Penh that all is well.
However, those whose mission it is to watch over the whole process aren't so sure.
The U. N. battalion in question is reporting that patrols are regular and according
to the book. Others in the know say that the job isn't getting done. In fact, it's
been reported that the only thing getting patrolled are the troop's bivouacs themselves.
The Gecko was told that critical reports sent back through channels suggesting "better
ways" to implement the peace accords are getting scuttled in Phnom Penh before
they reach the top where, if it were known, action would most likely be taken.
On the flip side of UNTAC's unprecedented mandate involving representatives from
more than 50 countries, the Uruguayans have gotten some high marks for doing the
job right. They're dropping small teams in by helicopter all over Sector IV for several
days at a stretch who take the time to poke around and find out what's going on.
Not only are the boys showing the U.N. flag in some of Cambodia's remotest jungle
redoubts but the Gecko hears that they are well-liked.