The bodies of four Cambodian peacekeepers killed by a Christian militia in Central African Republic two weeks ago were repatriated to the Kingdom and honoured in an airport ceremony late last night.
Some attendees clasped tea lights in plastic cups, making for a scattered candlelight vigil for the bodies of driver Im Sam, 36, quality control assistant Seang Norin, 35, excavator driver assistant Mom Tola, 31, and medical staffer Mao Eng, 37.
The four were killed in a guerrilla attack, launched by Anti-Balaka elements in CAR, in which a Moroccan peacekeeper also lost his life. Prime Minister Hun Sen attended the ceremony at around 8pm, where the four coffins bearing the bodies were draped in Cambodian and UN flags.
A brass band played as the coffins were carried, along with photographs of the men ringed with flowers. Their bodies will be returned to their home provinces for funerals with their families.
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For Chhay Chamroeun, the wife of Mao Eng, who served as a nurse in war-torn countries abroad, the return of her husband was bittersweet. “I feel very different from previous times. I used to come to see my husband when he returned home, and I was happy, but now I feel sad to receive his body … I feel like I am crazy,” she said.
“But to see the ceremony prepared [by the government], I am also excited because my husband is being honoured, I feel it.”
Defence Ministry spokesman Chhum Socheat praised the peacekeepers, saying they had been an example of Cambodian bravery.
“We are proud of them,” he said. “They sacrificed their life, but they have a great honour, from their family, from the nation, from CAR.”
Socheat went on to double down on Hun Sen’s promise to devote more peacekeeping troops to the UN in future.
“We are not afraid, even if we sacrifice some people, we have hope for the mission,” he said. Colonel Michael Stelzig, a US senior defence official who attended the ceremony, offered his condolences.
“We are very saddened by the loss of these peacekeepers, but we are very proud of the Cambodians who continue to contribute troops to the UN in the pursuit of world peace,” he said.
Herve Verhoosel, director of communications at the UN mission in CAR (Minusca), said his team was mourning the loss and thinking of their loved ones. “These peacekeepers undertake a difficult and honourable endeavour,” he said in an email.
“Their critical work opening roadways and building bridges helps to bring unity to a divided country. These gallant men lost their lives for the cause of peace.”
The killing of the peacekeepers was just one violent incident in CAR this month; the Anti-Balaka group attacked a Minusca field office and civilians last week, while on Saturday more fighting erupted, resulting in 22 deaths – the majority civilians – 36 injured and some 10,000 displaced by the violence.