It is becoming increasingly clear that UNTAC's press briefings are nothing but agitprop,
and by not being more critical, you are discouragingly lowering the standards of
your paper. I was hoping for better from the Phnom Penh Post.
The UNTAC line deserves rebuttal because stories are being printed without question
in newspapers throughout Southeast Asia, giving the world a false sense of UNTAC
To be specific, the figures of demobilized soldiers are fallacious; i.e. those allegedly
cantoned throughout the country. One would guess this is an effort to show the world
that UNTAC is carrying out its mandate, and to put pressure on the Khmer Rouge, which
is not participating in this phase of the peace process.
The latest figures given are over 16,000. In fact, one would be hard pressed to find
more than 500 soldiers actually living in cantonments. Sure, there are about a hundred
CPAF [Hun Sen army] air force technicians and mechanics living near Pochentong Airport.
(Are they really soldiers?) And there are handfuls of other soldiers living close
to or near cantonments in a couple of military sectors.
But the way UNTAC tells it, the figure of 16,000 represents soldiers who have disarmed
and are residing in barracks. It's simply not true, and I challenge any journalist
to go and see for him or herself.
Perhaps the discrepancy stems from bad diction: In Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary,
cantonment is defined as "the quartering of troops" or alternatively, "a
group of more or less temporary structures for housing troops."
This is markedly different from troop registration, whereby soldiers of three of
the four political factions have shown up at cantonments, give their names and ranks,
and then either do not hand in weapons at all or hand in the rustiest and oldest
of their guns (so they can keep at their bedside their new, functioning weapons).
They then return home; and never appear again.
In case anyone hasn't heard, there's fighting going on in this country, and no soldier
of any faction is about to hand in his or her weapon and return home unarmed.
This bad diction also distorts what UNTAC is prepared to provide in the cantonments.
Are there really barracks for demobilized soldiers to live in? Are there really adequate
daily rations for one and all, so that soldiers could live on site instead of at
their homes in surrounding villages? What has changed from the way these soldiers
have been living for the past 13 years?
While I am loyal to the principle behind UNTAC's mission here, and am hopeful that
UNTAC can carry it out successfully, more truth and less fiction might help the world
understand just how difficult it is to bring peace to Cambodia.
- Name withheld on request