KOMPONG CHAM CITY - So Cham Roeun will have fond memories of the Indian battalion
for as long as he lives. A returnee from the Thai border refugee camps, Cham Roeun
found work as an interpreter with a contingent of Indibatt's Jammu and Kashmir Rifles
based in Skoun. There he also met the woman of his dreams. However, as an orphan
and with little money of his own his hopes for marriage might have been dashed if
it weren't for more than a few helping hands.
Indibatt decided to adopt Cham Roeun. Soldiers chipped in money from their own pockets
to pay for his marriage. As the best wedding gift the newlyweds could ever dream
of the Indians then built the couple a new home.
Cham Roeun is not the only one who will be sorry to see the Indians depart. When
300-plus school children lined up on Sept. 13 to greet Col. A.N Bahuguna, commanding
officer of the Indian Battalion as he arrived to inaugurate a new school built here
by his troops, the kid's shouts and cheers and the waving of small Indian flags could
have been a sight repeated almost anywhere in the three provinces where IndiBatt
was stationed these last seven months.
"It's just fantastic what they've done," said Dieter von Samson, outgoing
UNTAC civil administration director for Kompong Cham province, referring to Indibatt's
civic action programs. "They created a lot of sympathy for UNTAC in the sector."
The list of projects undertaken by the battalion reads like the results of an NGO
concerned with grass roots development rather than the activities of a military contingent:
6 pagodas cleaned and repaired, village wells rehabilitated, clean water delivered
to 12 villages, 5 bridges repaired, mobile dental camps provided on an on-going basis
throughout the sector, 6 schools reconstructed, the construction of a 4000 liter
water tank for Prince Sihanouk High School, 38 kilometers of Rt. 15 rehabilitated,
10 bridges re-built, and more than 5,000 patients treated for medical problems.
The battalion also drew from its own staff resources to set up training programs
in metalworking, electronics, and carpentry. Many Khmers in the sector, including
demobilized soldiers, now have skills that they can use to improve their livelihoods.
Von Samson credits the leadership of Indibatt's commanding officer, Col. Bahuguna.
"He's a very thoughtful, religious man, a very fine character," says von
Samson. "He wants to help people, starting with children."
Bahuguna, for his part, shrugs off the praise, saying that civic action is just what
the battalion always does wherever they are. He then goes on to describe the wells
his troops built for villagers in the deserts of Rajastan.
In any event, long after the departure of Indibatt, many Cambodian children will
still be enjoying the fruits of the batallion's labors. And when you drive towards
Wat Phnom and see kids playing on a see-saw in the "FATEH SHIBJI Children Park"
give some credit to those stern-looking, sometimes turbanned warriors from the heart
of the sub-continent who know full-well that keeping the peace is much easier if
you try to build friendships too.