Battambang: On the surface, life goes on much the same in Cambodia's second city
but deep worries over security are playing on peoples' minds.
UNTAC pulled out its last 225 personnel on Friday (Date?) leaving mixed feelings
about future safety.
The blowing up of bridges appears to be a regular past-time here.
When the main bridge in town was blasted by TNT, residents looked at the damage with
a sense of foreboding and asked themselves who did it and why?
"We know it's not dangerous at the moment, but we're wondering what does it
mean - six bridges were blown up. Who's doing it?" asked Christopher Horwood,
project manager of the Mine Advisory Group (MAG) in Battambang.
With an eye on the increasing crime in the capital, people here are thinking ahead.
NGOs in the area met recently to discuss ways to improve communications between themselves
and other agencies. They have also sought to improve cooperation with the local authorities
Horwood, like many of his colleagues, has been a victim of petty theft but some of
the incidents are much more worrying.
One Australian staffer slept soundly while somebody crept into his bedroom and grabbed
about $300 and a fistfull of 500 riel notes.
Curiously, the thief left behind the Australian dollars and Cambodian 100-200 notes.
After dusk, traffic crossing the bridge is stopped and searched by the local police
- an added security precaution since the night-time explosion on Oct. 14. Luckily,
it only resulted in a hole, twisted metal bars and a broken guardrail.
People have different views about who is blowing up the bridges, especially the ones
between Battambang and Poipet.
The government lays the blame on the Khmer Rouge, saying its all part of a policy
to increase instability in the countryside.
Another possibility may lie in the practice of setting up "money collecting
sites". These days armed men charge to guide vehicles across partially-destroyed
"It's just another way to collect taxes," points out one UNTAC staffer.
"Whoever placed the TNT knew what they were doing."
Another theory is that bridges have been destroyed to prevent UNTAC taking out so
much of its valuable equipment from the country, although staffers insist the bridges
have had little effect on the pull-out.
Even so, some locals would apparently prefer it if UNTAC left everything behind.
Last month, a large group ransacked UNTAC's giant warehouse at Battambang airport
and only dispersed after a provincial soldier fired into the crowd, leaving one dead.
Christopher Horwood shares the view of many of his colleagues and says blame for
the blown bridges should not automatically be laid on the Khmer Rouge guerrillas.
"It seems stupid to me," he said, but "maybe the guards didn't mind
that their bridge is blown up. You know what I'm saying?"