Shinichi Asabe Article Collection

The People of Southeast Asia

Cambodia Just Before UNTAC WithdrawalAugust 1993

Angkor Wat can be said “another capital” strategically.

“As the beginning of their operations, the Khmer Rouge captured Preah Vihear temple, trying to cut the economic throat of the new government. In order to getthe seat of permanent advisor in the government, they are weighing the condition of exchange for disposing their controlled area. A Cambodian friend mentioned this information he got from a source of the Defence Ministry, at a stretch as he greeted me hastily after a long time. His story is related to a news agency’sreport of July 10: “The Khmer Rouge started to move their troops to the north.”


On August 7, I started from Phnom Penh for Siem Reap via Battambang and Sisophon. The sacred grounds of Cambodia, Angkor Wat, is also an important tourism resource. However, there are Western backpackers and Thai sightseers by the twos and threes in the precincts where I walked around. Here, there are more the handicapped and begging children who have learned the English guide words by rote memory. A staff of the Tourism Bureau feels sad that only three tour groups came during the first week of August even though more than 10 groups were visiting daily by April.

The sharp decline in tourists is not only because of the rainy season. The Khmer Rouge invaded Siem Reap city and more than 30 persons were killed in the local battle in the beginning of May. The biggest blow came when Japan and America exercised self-control on sightseeing trips to Angkor.

Lieutenant General Long Sopheap (age 41) gave me a lecture on the former government base knocked out by a squall. “They want to make Siem Reap their capital because the sacred ground, the port of Tonle Sap, the airport, and the tourism resources are assembled here,” he estimates. The planned operation of the Khmer Rouge is to concentrate Regiment No.912 to the Gok Dow area 28 km north-northwest of Angkor Thom, No.980 to the Kulen area 38 km east-northeast, and No.606 which has its headquarters at Slan Noi 55 km north-northeast ・・・during the first stage from August 1 to 10. Then in the second stage, to start the attack against Angkor Thom, Banteay Surey, and Siem Reap city to August 20. The third and final stage is to capture the main temples and Siem Reap city. The man who is taking the supreme command is General Ta Mok, leading Regiment No.606. He is the one controlling Regiment No.980, No.912, and also No.785 especially for subversive activities.

The new government decided on its first counter-attack against the Khmer Rouge of the new unified army on August 3, as they shot four H-12 rockets into the Siem Reap airport by Khmer Rouge two days before.

The former Sihanouk army has 19,005 soldiers in four divisions and one regiment, while the former army has 21,000 in five divisions, according to their own statements. However, “the two-party army is, for example, 127 generals in a platoon which has only 50 guns, not equal to the action,” the Major General says, pointing out the difficulty in unifying the armies. When UNTAC paid the salary to the soldiers for the new government that had been almost bankrupted in the beginning of August, the pay for an upper general was 80,000 riel (about $25) and for the others, half of that was paid to the three armies impartially. So the soldiers of the former government army complain to the two armies only of their titles. At the start of the unifying of the three armies, they decided to call the divisions of the two new armies with double-digit numbers and others of the former government with single-digits so as to distinguish them without the parties’ names ・・unlike before, when all the divisions of the three armies were called by single-digit numbers. And although they arranged the mutual dispatch of commanders, the two-party army has not moved from its previous posts along the Thai border. In this way, it seems possible to attack the Khmer Rouge from both flanks but “I’ve no idea if they can fight against their old friend. And they are mere guerrillas who cannot read a map even when we try to tell them how to do an operation,” the lieutenant general says, sounding like he doesn’t expect very much from them.

In the early morning of the next day, August 9, I left Siem Reap city led by a heavily armed platoon with rockets, grenade-launchers or machine guns on a military truck, headed for the front lines. The lieutenant commander of the platoon, So Phiep (37), explained the war situation in my four-wheel-drive car. “The Khmer Rouge’s regular soldiers are only one-third and the others are the porters of farmers that take guns only when they come across fighting, although they dispatched 3,000 reinforcements from Pailin and Konpong Thom,” he says, adding his army has the advantage. The new government army has deployed 3,300 soldiers in Siem Reap prefecture. Division No.4, Regiment No.286 with about 300 soldiers would counterattack from 6 o’clock this morning in the Kockdow area where we are going. However, they clashed with Khmer Rouge Regiment No.785 that was trying to reach Route No.6, advancing the time of opening fire to four-thirty.

The truck running ahead and dusting up the red soil, stopped suddenly. “Take a walk from this point, please.” It is the battlefield where one soldier each from both sides were killed at dawn. The lieutenant commander explained,”They tried to cross this road from west to east in order to cut our supply line at a point toward Sisophon, along Route No.6.” The reason we walk on the trace of the truck is to reduce the possibility of stepping on a land mine. The Khmer Rouge planted the mines on both sides of their crossing point on the road. On the footpath between the rice paddies where a soldier signaled using his chin, a Khmer Rouge guerrilla lay with his arms raised and sharp eyes gazing at the burning sun.


The front base of the government army Regiment No.286 was located at Cha Chu temple of Kohchan village. “These things welcomed you this morning,” a soldier who arrived earlier said, showing me the anti-tank mines that had just been dug out and being displayed on the ground. No commander from the other two parties’ armies have arrived yet and all the soldiers are of the former government. In the precincts, the provincial army was preparing for departure by loading weapons, ammunition, bags of rice, bicycles, and a radio-cassette onto the two large trucks. There was a weeping woman behind the monks’ lodgings. She was Bophana, 32 years old. Her husband, who used to be a farmer, joined the provincial army three years ago. Although he came back to his home with his troop village yesterday after a three-month absence, it was only for a supply with no time to be home. Now, he is leaving his wife and five children behind again for the battle field a hundred kilometers away.

Mr. Sttea Ros(41), a colonel in charge of politics of the former government army, gave this story when I saw him in Battambang on the way to Siem Reap: “The Khmer Rouge’s aim in reopening their office in Phnom Penh must be a psychological tactic. They are trying to set us at ease by pretending to send a peace diplomat and waiting for our unguarded opportunity in the countryside.” In Battambang, the prefecture where he has been responsible since the peace accord up to the end of July this year, the total number of villages which have been attacked by the Khmer Rouge are more than 400, and 20 of them are always under their offensive. The total number of dead are 60 on the government side and 278 on the Khmer Rouge side. The cease fire has been broken and can be said not to be concluded from the beginning.

Colonel Ros also charged that “almost 60% of the weapons captured from the Khmer Rouge were brand new ones from China or America. The economic sanctions that the UN Security Council decided on last November don’t make sense at all.” As the border guards of Thailand gave tacit consent to the Khmer Rouge’s attack against Preah Veheah temple from Thai territory, they exist fundamentally for maintaining economic relations with the Khmer Rouge. He blamed Thailand for the Thai merchants crossing the border freely and buying jewelry and timber from the Khmer Rouge and selling ammunition and daily necessities under the patronage of the border guards. “Though the Khmer Rouge can buy the weapons and the ammunition by a $3-billion deposit in a Thai bank, we cannot use the donation of $880 million dollars from Japan for the national defense and have to use it only for the national reconstruction.” Colonel Ros said that the only way to achieve peace is to stop Thailand from supporting the Khmer Rouge.

About the UN’s Peace-Keeping Operations in this country, Colonel Ros had this to say: “UNTAC, which was powerless against the peace-breaker, disappointed the citizens. They limited our army’s move one-sidedly and puffed up the Khmer Rouge. As a result, the quiet villages became battlefields. Moreover, their cease-fire observers reported too late, always after the houses were burned down and the villagers were killed.” His words were so heavy before the actual war disasters.

I heard the criticism against the PKO also from a lieutenant general, Mr. Long Sopheap in Siem Reap. “This operation? Of course, UNTAC knows about it in advance. Because they cannot stay even in the capital, Phnom Penh, safely without our defense.”

He was educated by the Viet Cong in the jungle during the Lon Nor regime and has been fighting as a soldier since 1970. In ’73, before Pol Pot took power, he escaped to Vietnam with his whole battalion and returned to Cambodia in triumph, driving away the Khmer Rouge by the end of ’78. He has been here in Siem Reap since ’85. “Though it’s not easy because they are from many countries, they are incoherent. Actually, their confused commands often got us in trouble.”

UNTAC rounded up the government troops that were guarding the villages of Norkoh Peace and Kahnan to guard the polling places of Kohchan and Trenyoh. Taking advantage of that opportunity, Khmer Rouge regiment No.912 stationed in the jungle of Domuang captured these scanty villages for the bridgehead on this operation.

The Khmer Rouge is trying to reinforce 800 soldiers by sending 200 more from Domuang against the government army that set out on its recapture operation. The lieutenant commander, Mr. So Phiep (37), took me to their artillery base, saying they would prevent the Khmer Rouge’s reinforcement by shelling the road to Norkoh Peace.

“BOOM!!!” I thought my eardrums were torn out by an exploding sound. The cannon was a 76.2 mm that the former Soviet Union and China have produced since World War II. If it’s old and in bad maintenance, it makes a louder sound. The weapons of the government are just like “antiques,” as donations from the Soviets stopped earlier and the Vietnamese army withdrew four years ago. However, the operator looks well-trained from his quick and secure movement. As soon as he adjusts the cannon and glances at the piece of paper on which is written the target position, he loads a heavy, almost 80-cm shell into it and fires. He shifts position before loading the second one intentionally. He fires four shells at two different positions 10 km away at exactly 11:15. Two hours later, we received a report by transceiver that the government recaptured the villages although it is still under engagement.

We saw a Katyusha, a multi-loading rocket launcher led by an armed personnel carrier hurrying on our way back to the town. The government army that is fewer than Khmer Rouge in the number of soldiers, dispatches heavy weapons to the front line. We heard the characteristic sound of the rapid successive fire that was called ‘the organ of Stalin’ once upon a time at a supper restaurant of Siem Reap.

UNTAC started to give back the confiscated weapons from the end of July because the armies of the three parties were unified under the new government. The new government army has already been promised it will be supplied with new uniforms and ammunition from Indonesia and to be given a drill by French experts.

Lieutenant General Long Sopheap says: “It’s also possible for us to make the Khmer Rouge’s bases surrender in the west while they persist on attacking Siem Reap,” as the new government troops began to counterattack ‘the capital,’Thmar Puok, on August 18. Besides, the Khmer Rouge expressed its censure on the 19th: “The attack is under the command of the United Nations, America, France, and Australia. And they give out the war funds.” And from the 21st, they appealed to the former Sihanouk army and the former Son San army that had formed an alliance with them not to attack, by radio. On the other hand, the chairman of the Pol Pot party, Khieu Samphan, is sounding out an open round-table conference through Thailand, but the new government is to deny it until they stop the subversive activities.

The Khmer Rouge is nothing but an outlaw guerrilla organization that doesn’t surrender these days, and the new government has been recognized by the world. Cambodian troubles will come to an end instead of returning to civil war as far as this composition lasts.


A 40-year-old diplomat of the former government of my friend analyzes the results of the general election: The cause of victory of the FUNCINPEC party was that the slogan that it would reform the corrupt government and stop the warfare by taking the Khmer Rouge onto its side caught the hearts of people who were fed up with the fighting and the poverty. And also the canvassers who learnt how to campaign in Thailand went into every village and collected the votes・・・while the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) had to be realistic as the present governor and was unable to publish a rosy policy. And what is worse, according to him, showing confidence that they could clear the country of the Khmer Rouge made the people think that the warfare would continue.

Moreover, the diplomat discloses this reasoning concerning the election: A big1 American shadow would have been moving despite only a few Americans among the personnel of UNTAC. The director of the information section of UNTAC, Mr. Tim Carney, who it was rumored was from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), called on the new Minister of Information, Mr. Khieu Kanharith, who used to be one of the vice prime ministers of the former government at the end of July. Mr.Carney asked him to analyze the policy of FUNCINPEC and the Pol Pot party by offering UNTAC’s radio station that UNESCO had also secretly wanted.

The United States appreciated the CPP’s 14-year governing experience, its military power to drive the Khmer Rouge away, and its policy that would welcome any country’s donations. And they would want the CPP to win the election. However, FUNCINPEC became the biggest party as the result of election, with Prince Sihanouk, who had been said to be anti-American, himself taking up the sovereign’s post to promulgate a monarchical policy. The United States could have thought of wiping out its humiliation in Vietnam and taking advantage in the normalizing process of Vietnam-America relations by bearing a pro-American government through a successful democratic election just next to Vietnam. But the democratizing domino that America expected in Indochina misfired and the treatment of the Khmer Rouge that America is pressuring on the new government was negotiated in a very Asian way. The Cambodian diplomat suspects that is a means to gain time for America to return the power to the CPP, that the UN Security Council prefers sending another UN organization to Cambodia after UNTAC’s withdrawal now.

FUNCINPEC became the first party to go through an election, so it doesn’t need the back-up of the army of the Pol Pot party any longer, even though its army is poor. But I heard a rumor that some of the soldiers betrayed the Khmer Rouge on the front lines.

The new government divided the 28 ministers to 12 each by the two major parties, FUNCINPEC and CPP, except the four from the Buddhist Liberal Democratic Party and another. Isn’t there any crack in the coalition government of the former Sihanouk party: FUNCINPEC, which has been allied with the Pol Pot party and the former government, the CPP?

To find out, firstly, I interviewed the Minister of Information, Mr. Khieu Kanharith of the CPP. How is the draft of the constitution going on?・・・”It’s going on favorably and will finish up by the end of August as a timetable. No conflict with FUNCINPEC, and if there is, it is only a technical problem.” How about the military unification? ・・・”If it is not stabilized or peaceful, neither investors nor tourists will come to our country even though each commander of the three parties is leading his own troops still now. In Siem Reap, the unified army is on the defense at the moment.” How do you deal with the Pol Pot party?・・・”We may consider if can they become an honorary advisor only but we could never admit them as members of the Assembly or the Cabinet. And our counterattack this time aims at pushing them back and not at sweeping them away. We believe if we spread our governing area more, they will fade out naturally.” What do you think of the pressure of America against accepting the Khmer Rouge?・・・”The United States is not a big donor for us. Because the biggest donors are, from the top, Japan, France, China, Australia and so on. And also the human rights diplomacy of America doesn’t hold well in most Asian countries, including ours. For example, they meddle in the treatment of prisoners but the ordinary citizens are living in more severe situation.” Any solution for the Vietnamese-Cambodian problem? ・・・”As soon as possible, we will enforce the immigration laws and would like to allow them to work in this country for a certain period if the local people wouldn’t mind.” Even though, as I heard, you are in financial difficulties?・・ “We will collect taxes without omission and manage the Treasury accurately. We don’t intend to increase taxes. We prefer investments to donations because we want to reconstruct things by ourselves.” Any inconvenience in the absence of Prince Sihanouk from Cambodia? ・・・”No comment [smiles knowingly]. He has his dear friends over there. He could be shooting his favorite film and attending a hospital. However, we make contact with him by fax in Beijing and by telex in Pyongyang, so there is no inconvenience especially.”

On the other hand, Mr. Ung Hout, who used to be a political advisor of the FUNCINPEC party, has become the Minister of Telecommunications of the new government. He says there is no problem with the draft of the constitution, just as the Minister of Information, Mr. Kahnarith did. Solely, he seems to be guarding the roll-back of the CPP that is grasping the administrative organ and the national army substantially, from his added comments: “We stress the protection of democracy and human rights in the draft.”

How about the treatment of the Pol Pot party? ・・ “They propose to be members of the government at this time (after we’ve won). We cannot accept them into the Assembly and the Cabinet because they boycotted the indisputable fair and free elections even for themselves,” he says, discarding the Pol Pot party with which it formed an alliance until just recently. But,”If they join the new national army of Prince Sihanouk in abandoning their policy, we are prepared to accept them as advisors,” he said, also showing flexibility as Minister Kahnarith did. However, he emphasized that his party never intended to take their seats at a round-table meeting until the Khmer Rouge stopped its attacks against the new government and the genocide of Vietnamese. About the time when the solution would, he gestured that he had “no idea and it is up to them,” with his arms apart and shrugging his shoulders in the Western way. I ask him: Even though you blamed “remaining Vietnamese troops” before?・・・”I personally think there are a lot of Vietnamese still now, but they are not soldiers. Generally speaking, there is no evidence.” It’s unbelievable that he is the same person who claimed last year that” many soldiers get together in front of the Palace every evening.”

About the mountain of reconstructing work to be done, he says,”Although the priority is the order of the roads, the electricity and the water, we have to recover the public peace first. We cannot work on them if burglary and murder are rampant everywhere. Now, 300 policemen are taking special training from UNTAC.” How about the budget? ・・・”If I use as an example the tariff in Kaoh Kong island, it was only 500 million riel by the time the new government was established two months ago but it tripled to 1500 million riel (over 60 million yen) last month.

So we can prospect a salary for government employees. And Japan is taking an important role in positively releasing earlier the reconstruction aid, $880 million that was fixed in June last year.” How do you plan to correspond with foreign investment? ・・”We have already set up an investment committee. We would decide 51% for the Cambodian side and 49% for foreign investors by learning from other countries, but it would depend on the contract’s conditions,” he says, seeming to feel impatient at having no self-funds despite keeping his dignity.

Actually, many foreign companies are rushing to make contracts to reconstruct the telephone line network of Cambodia. But he says he is refusing them still now. Telephones, which are hardly alive in the capital and the suburbs, was equipped by France a half century ago. “I know how to handle the traders. First of all, we will write a master plan based on our own research of our country. And then we will make a contract with a foreign company.” Saying so, he took a pamphlet entitled ‘Mini Master Plan’ out of his desk. I felt I could see his spirit of trying to put a full stop to a history which has been tossed about by big waves.

Though I interviewed the two ministers from the two parties, their basic policies are not different within the extent of being outspoken. Afterwards, Prince Ranarhid, the leader of FUNCINPEC who blasted Prime Minister Fun Sen as “the puppet of Vietnam, the aggressor nation” with the Pol Pot party before, visited Hanoi with that same Prime Minister on August 22. The new coalition government proved its monolithic union by themselves.

However, unlike the officers on the front lines who are responsible directly for the lives of the citizens, no politicians anywhere speak of the essential things. What is the public opinion of this country? Fourteen non-governmental organizations (NGOs) of Cambodia established a citizen’s coalition named the “Ponleu Khmer” (meaning “Khmer Light”) in order to reflect the will of the people upon the Assembly in the beginning of June. “Peace will never, ever come, if we reject the Khmer Rouge”: Such an opinion was over the majority as the result of the public hearings focusing on the fatal point for Cambodian peace ・・・the treatment of Khmer Rouge that were held by the more than 10,000 members of the Ponleu Khmer all over the country. Even in a country where it’s almost impossible to meet a person who hasn’t lost any family member during the Pol Pot regime, the people deeply desire peace.

The latest draft of the acceptable conditions for the Pol Pot party according to the vice-chairman of the Ponleu Khmer, Nhem Kim Teng (36), was composed of the following six articles: [1]Not to isolate the Pol Pot party from the Assembly, [2] All parties, including Pol Pot’s, have to submit all their weapons to the Mi nistry of Defense, [3] UNTAC and the Ministry of Defense are to check every party for concealed weapons, [4] The Pol Pot party does not take the important position in the new government, [5] The leaders of the Pol Pot party have to announce their ideas for the future of this country before the citizens, and [6] the foreign donors have to donate equally to both under the control of the government and the Pol Pot party, and also directly to the citizens. When this manuscript is printed out, the will of the people could be referred and discussed in the Assembly.

“We have to allow for each other. If we try to take the Khmer Rouge to court, it will bring on war again. Such an attempt means to flay a scab which has just stopped bleeding. What we need now is only time, no medicine,” the vice president, Mr. Teng, who is also a Buddhist monk, said with a gentle smile.


The SDF performs “BON-ODORI,” Japanese traditional dance so as to make friends with the local people.

I arrived in Takeov after driving along Route No.3, which Japan’s Self-Defense forces repaired, for two hours from Phnom Penh. Feeling sorry for them, I couldn’t appreciate their distinguished services because this road had been in better condition than the other ones were and I was able to drive without difficulty when I came to this country for the first time six years ago.

The battalion commander, Mr. Yoshio Ishioroshi, says,”I always thought I had to take it all back to Japan without accident, so I was racking my brains how to correspond by the regulations when the tension became higher depending on the movement of ‘the enemy element'”. Another thing troubling him was that the reports in which the media emphasized the dangerous situation here worried their families in Japan unnecessarily. Fortunately, both have come almost to the end in vain. “We can say we did well in the repairing of the roads and the bridges. But when we think what we could leave in this country, we, the engineer battalion, wanted to teach road maintenance to the people as other foreign forces did in the field of agriculture or medicine. Although we were not prohibited to do such additional activity by the Japanese government, there was no time and we learnt it would be impossible if we don’t plan in advance.” This battalion commander became fond of Cambodia now more than the time when he was dispatched here in April. However, he said,”I never think positively about coming again to this country, where I feel a strange fear even when on vacation.”

At the post, they have started to wash off the mud of Cambodia from the 300 cars that ran 40,000-50,000 each for 10 months toward the withdrawal from September 15. A 44-year-old second lieutenant from Hokkaido says,”It’s rather cold now, although I was beaten by the hotness of 50℃ in April.” The thermometer by me is rising up to 32’C. Even though the Cambodian people provoked him by stealing the battery of his truck, he says,”I want to dig wells for the people who are drinking muddy water in the villages.” He is leaving his heart in Cambodia. Although 8-year-old Lan and her friends who ran after the construction site for many kilometers under the burning sun, aiming at the cold drinking water of the Self-Defense Forces at first, they began to offer their little hands to pile up the sand bags or dump the waste while he was talking to the children with a conversation book. “I would like to come and see the children again, how they are five or 10 years later,”the sunburnt second lieutenant says, seemingly anxious about their future. The soldiers of the Self-Defense Forces, who bathed in perspiration under the Cambodian sun, could indeed experience an important thing that hadn’t been ordered from above.

Although the PKO in Cambodia was for Japan its first experience totally, an experienced 39-year-old UN officer had doubts about the PKO of the United Nations. He has been voluntarily participating in Cambodia since ’89, before theParis Accord. “It’s the same as development, so if we don’t leave matters to the Cambodian people, peace will never come. Even if it takes time, we have to. It’s obvious that the pressure from the UN by sending its army and imposing economic sanctions has no effect, when seeing the present situation that the problem of the Khmer Rouge has not solved at all in this country. Still,’a gun is the law’ and the villagers are quarreling with each other once after getting out of Phnom Penh. The United Nations should deal only in the humanitarian aid and monitor it. But they should withhold any intervention in their policy,” this officer said, posing questions on PKOs deployed around the world.

I sat around a local pot with the staff members of a Japanese NGO on the day before leaving for Narita. One of them said: “Listen! A Japanese policeman had supper at that table the other day while he was back in Phnom Penh on holiday. When he recognized that we were Japanese, can you imagine what on Earth he said to us? He asked ‘Did you apply to come here?,’ since he did. So we answered ‘We are here because we like this country.’ And what was worse, he asked us,’Volunteers are kind of odd fellows, aren’t they?’ It was none of his business! Don’t you think so?” We burst out laughing at such a dialogue.

Even though NGO staff members regard persons from the UN, governments, and companies as being here for their own income and promotion, they seemed to be shocked at the policeman, as if they saw some recognition among Japanese. One of the staffers said, “The civil war has lasted so long because the big powers like the members of the UN Security Council are supplying the weapons. This PKO is nothing more than an atonement for their sins. Without the supply of weapons, the Cambodian people could live alone for themselves because this country is so rich. But it’s not realistic, because if they do so, they will have to close the door so as not to be squeezed in by foreigners.” Our talk on international contributions (Kokusai Koken) got excited as we ate with much gusto the wild chicken and insecticide-free vegetables.

(Story & Photo by Shinichi ASABE)

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