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Nothing to say sorry for: Japanese remembered as friends

Nothing to say sorry for: Japanese remembered as friends

T AKEO - The letter begins: "Japan, 23 March 1994.

"Dear Friend, I've been

so busy I haven't had time to write, but I haven't forgotten our friendship.

"My wish for Cambodia is peace... Take it easy. Have a big beer and give

my best wishes to Sridung and Wee and Sina and Sathiko and everyone else. -

Tomoyoshi."

Oum Srin, 39, of Takeo, keeps this as his most personal

momento of the time spent with the former Japanese peace-keepers.

"Both

the Japanese [soldiers] and the villagers cried when they left," Srin said of

the troops who pulled out in Sept 1993. "They regarded us as their brothers and

sisters," he said.

The Japanese government sent more than 600 troops to

participate in the Cambodian peacekeeping mission between 1991-93, Tokyo's first

overseas military operation since World War II.

People here talk only

about the fine work done by the Japanese engineering battalion.

Many

villagers who lived near the Japanese UNTAC barracks said they made life-long

friends with the soldiers.

Srin said soldiers brought their food to share

with the villagers; and took children to the markets to buy books, pens, shoes

and toys.

"They were honest and strict to their appointment," Srin

said.

Srin recalled the time when he helped a clumsy Japanese friend wear

a krama [Cambodian scarf] around his waist. He still remembers the "Ohaiyo" and

"Sayonara" greetings when his friends came to see him on Sunday

mornings.

"They loved us very much - both young and old people," said

Srin's neighbor Mok Srey Mom.

Mom said some Japanese soldiers took small

children, including her's, to stay in hotels in Phnom Penh for a few days before

they left.

She emotionally added: "I miss them very much."

The

villagers say they feel very nostalgic when they pass by the former Japanese

barracks, which have been converted into a regional training center for rural

development.

The compound is still surrounded by barbed wire and concrete

posts, but the forty apartments are mostly empty.

The regulations written

on an iron sheet at the front gate have been rubbed out by the weather; only the

first line can be read: "Here is the Japanese Engineering Battalion

camp."

Next to a huge pile of empty asphalt barrels is a solar generated

container of running water made by the soldiers, where villagers come to get

their drinking water.

The past - the alleged bad treatment of Khmers by

the World War II Japanese, something still taught in history books today - is

forgotten.

Locals can't imagine the Japanese behaving any differently

than how they did during UNTAC.

Even though former Cambodian Premier Pen

Sovann argued that the Japanese government should compensate Cambodia for what

its soldiers did during World War II, the Royal Government has assured Tokyo

that it would not seek any such payment.

The government agrees with the

former coolies that the treatment by the Japanese soldiers during World War II

was "mild."

Cambodian Foreign Minister Ung Huot said he had no discussion

on this topic when his Japanese counterpart Yohei Kono visited in August this

year.

Neither was the "global" apology made by the Japanese Prime

Minister during the 50th anniversary of the end of WWII arlier this year

conveyed by the Japanese Foreign Minister to Cambodia - nor was it demanded,

says Huot.

"We have told Japan that our Royal Government will not demand

any compensation for [the damage] during WWII like other countries," Huot

said.

"For Cambodia, we've told them that we will not recall the things

in the past," he added.

The "grant aid" from Japan to Cambodia has been

remarkable, more than $372.5 million having been spent here since 1991,

according to the Japanese Embassy documents, including multilateral and

bilateral aid programs.

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