The Phnom Penh Post has stepped up pro-UNTAC propaganda to the extent that I suspect
Eric Falt's new job is ghost writing your copy. "Casualties of Stress"
(Nov. 4) is such an instance where the writer pretends to reveal how stress affects
peace-keepers but ends up giving the SNC party line on UNTAC's problems and cure.
He begins with that favorite UNTAC whipping boy the Bulgarian soldier just after
committing suicide. What is shocking is the patronizing way the writer feigns to
sympathize with the victim all the while putting the cause of death down to the grunt's
mental weakness or neurosis.
For six months I worked as the election supervisor shoulder-to-shoulder with the
Bulgarians who happened to have their main base camp of Udong in my district. Not
once did I or my staff have the slightest problem with any Bulgabatt member. Moreover,
anytime we made a request for assistance they were always ready and happy to help.
If the Bulgarians were the savages the UNTAC officials paint them to be then possibly
they can explain why there was not even one incident between my election group and
the hundreds of those troops billeted in my district. What a shame that most will
never know these kind troops, as I did, as being the most abused and persecuted group
in U.N. history.
What went wrong? Knowing the Bulgarians, most of whom were good, honest soldiers,
they probably woke up and found themselves immersed in a sea of inter-UNTAC back-stabbing.
Not knowing how to play the UNTAC
-U.N. political games of frame-up, lying, cover up, distortion, character assassination
and forgery, the Bulgarians flipped out and had no other tack but to frag the system.
And, that is just what the U.N.-tacky group of officials wanted. Working in the best
Gestapo tradition, no doubt handed down from Kurt Waldheim, they declared open season
Stress? Understatement! It was war. Virtually any questionable action by that group
was tossed to the press. While the corruption and incompetence in other components
and battalions was covered up So, the Bulgarians, to the SNC clique became "anti-social".
The UNTAC line continues in the piece when it blames the media for bashing morale
"As in the Vietnam War..." Yet, the problem here was that the media failed
to bash hard enough and in the right places. UNTAC failed to give the grunts at the
front the fullest account of incidents while the press could not, or did not, dig
This, along with layers of contradictory and silly commands from Phnom Penh, created
a sharp resentment in the field.
The greatest stress creator came with the realization that many U.N. leaders really
didn't give a damn for Cambodia but were here to milk the UN.
That approach filtered down to pollute the lesser ranks and soon Cambodians also
caught on and were ransacking offices and stealing cars. But how can we blame car
snatchers? They only mimic the shady deeds of much more crafty U.N. veterans.
To U.N. officialdom the solution is simple. For recruits, tighten-up by limiting
contracts to six months and introduce psychological tests.
These measures would be madness only serving to tighten the self-seeking grip of
U.N. bureaucrats and worsening the matter since, with only six months service, one
could never even think of questioning the power and glory of these tyrants.
The recent study by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies
placed the blame for the UNTAC fiasco clearly at the top. Lack of purpose and confusion
resulted, they noted, because of overlapping and disjointed command and responsibility
structures. It also created terrific amounts of stress that challenged even the soundest
Future missions should offer only six month contracts to U.N. career officials since
it is here where leadership is most needed yet most lacking. And, as many U.N. personnel
can tell you, it should be these lifers who have their sanity periodically vetted.
Finally, to improve morale, future missions should allow funding nations a strong
role in making independent investigations into complaints against delinquent officials.
It is only at the point where the gas and water are cut off that the U.N. will be
forced to act against these tyrants.
- Curtis Smith