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. -
Oum Srin, 39, of Takeo, keeps this as his most personal
momento of the time spent with the former Japanese peace-keepers.
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.
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
"They were honest and strict to their appointment," Srin
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
"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
She emotionally added: "I miss them very much."
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
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
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
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
Cambodian Foreign Minister Ung Huot said he had no discussion
on this topic when his Japanese counterpart Yohei Kono visited in August this
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,
"We have told Japan that our Royal Government will not demand
any compensation for [the damage] during WWII like other countries," Huot
"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.