UN Troops and Police Grapple With Cambodian Crime Wave
A FUNERAL procession passes by below the second-story porch of a house where several United Nations police officers are now quartered.
"You see that?" a Swedish police officer asks, pointing to a canopied wagon drawn by white-clad mourners one recent Sunday morning. "That is a restaurant owner killed three days ago. He refused to let some drunk into his place. The guy just shot him."
After 20 years of nearly uninterrupted war, weapons abound throughout this impoverished country.
"There is lots of crime here; there are lots of weapons," he says. And at night the bandits reign.
Making matters worse is the demobilization of soldiers, especially government troops, whose services can no longer be afforded. Many of them become police, but the pay is worse and unlike the military, food is not guaranteed. Those civilians who can afford them also have weapons for self-defense.
Despite the danger, the UN police do not carry weapons, unless specifically authorized by the chief of the UN Transitional Authority for Cambodia's civilian police. "If you go out on patrol and someone shoots at you, what do you do?" asks the police officer. "It's a not a pleasant situation. I don't like it."
A recently arrived battalion of Dutch Marines is assigned to demobilize all the rebel factions in an area mostly under Khmer Rouge control, eventually disarming the entire population.
But this critical phase of the UN peace plan, which started in mid-June, has been held up. The Khmer Rouge refuses to allow UN troops into areas they control.
Based in areas held by the Vietnamese-installed government of Hun Sen, the Dutch troops now make daily patrols into Khmer Rouge areas. Unlike other UN units, they have only one native Khmer-speaker for each of the four companies. One of these, Lt. Khoun Sovichhaya, was until two months ago a butcher in the small Khmer community in the Netherlands.
"I had goose-pimples all over when I first saw the Khmer Rouge again," says the man who endured more than three years under their reign of terror and then another three years under the Vietnamese-installed government before fleeing to Thailand in 1983.
In the present lawless situation there is still a brisk trade here of weapons, predominantly Chinese-made, that pour over the border from Thailand, UN officials say.
Obstructed by the Khmer Rouge from their role of demobilizing the area, the Dutch troops are now bucking for other assignments. Interdicting weapons flowing across the Thai border would be a good place to start, the police officer suggests.
Marine commanders, however, say they have no such plans. For one thing, they need to avoid antagonizing the Thais, who are responsible for policing the border and whose cooperation grants them access to the Khmer Rouge-controlled area where they have been assigned, just across the border from Aranyaprathet, Thailand.
More likely, the Marines will take over from the civilian police the task of accompanying refugees being repatriated from camps in Thailand.
UN police currently accompany local police on day and night patrols to monitor their work.
"They are not trained police, I can tell you that," says another officer who nevertheless praised the Cambodians for giving the UN "full cooperation" in letting them follow their investigations.
The UN has set aside funds for training, but so far most efforts have been in English lessons.
Regularizing the judiciary is another aim. "There have been so many legal codes here [French, Khmer Rouge, and Vietnamese] that they are not sure what laws they are following," the police officer says.