Cambodians fall out with the UN peace-keepers

THE LATEST issue of the Cambodia Times, the country's only English-language weekly, has it in for Eric Falt, chief spokesman for the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (Untac). Apparently Mr Falt had summoned Western and Japanese correspondents to a press conference, but had failed to notify the Cambodia Times. The newspaper said that when it complained, the spokesman replied snappishly: 'I can't be calling everybody.'

If this is true, Mr Falt must be regretting his impatience. Without naming him, the Cambodia Times devotes an entire leading article to an attack on him, and, by extension, the West.

'The Untac spokesman's office regards itself more as an agent of the Western press than as a provider of information to the local people, who time and time again come last in their order of priorities,' it thundered.

'This gives rise to a strong feeling amongst the local press that Untac is really a Western transplant plonked in the middle of the country, run by Westerners for the sake of good media ratings in the Western world and their bosses at UN headquarters in New York. Cambodia, it seems, is just incidental to the whole process.'

The newspaper goes on to claim that many Untac officials, 'especially those from the West', look down on Cambodians and treat them in their own country as second-class citizens. While the Japanese head of Untac, Yasushi Akashi, labours tirelessly for peace, some of his colleagues behave like colonialists, it says. Some of the Western journalists on whom the spokesman's office allegedly fawns, and even Untac officials themselves, can think of examples to bear out the Cambodia Times. The newspaper is not alone in its concern at the impact of 16,000 troops and 6,000 civilians from more than 40 countries on this small, violent and desperately poor nation.

Somalia and Bosnia may attract the headlines, but two-thirds of the UN's peace-keeping budget is being spent in Cambodia. Even the organisation's own financial controllers have complained at the lavishness of the operation, with two vehicles for every three Untac personnel and almost as many computers. The flood of dollars, now a second currency, has created prosperity, but of a lopsided kind. The boom is confined to service industries. Nobody is investing long-term until it becomes clear whether Untac's mission to bring peace and hold elections will succeed or fail.

Worse yet, much of the money pouring in is pouring straight out again, to businessmen from south- east Asia and beyond. The Grand Hotel at Angkor Wat is being renovated by a Thai company to accommodate the parties of elderly French tourists clambering over the ruins. The depredations of the Khmer Rouge created such a shortage of skills in Cambodia that most of the artisans refurbishing properties for UN use are from Thailand or Vietnam. The only local entrepreneurs are corrupt ministers and officials selling government assets to the highest bidder. The Phnom Penh government's policemen and soldiers, many of whom have not been paid for months, extort what they can from their fellow countrymen.

In many ways Untac has failed to set a better example. There is bickering between volunteer election workers, some risking their lives in remote areas for dollars 700 ( pounds 460) a month, and full-time UN officials, who are earning a special allowance of dollars 145 a day on top of their tax-free salaries. Nobody has a good word for the multi-national police contingent: too many of them feel naked without the guns they carry at home, say their critics, and have no idea how to carry out investigations when they are not allowed to beat up suspects.

The whole operation could have cost much less than pounds 1.2bn, and been considerably more effective, the complaint goes on, if Cambodians had been allowed to play a larger part. Most scandalously, there have been cases where pay to Cambodian staff has been delayed for weeks, and then made up by useless cheques.

The Cambodia Times may be right to blame the West for Untac's shortcomings, but its strictures might carry more weight if it were not published by a Malaysian public-relations company, part of a group whose interests are heavily promoted in its pages. If it were not for the UN, the Cambodia Times would not exist.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

Ashdown Group: Linux Administrator - London - £50,000

£45000 - £50000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Linux Systems Administrator ...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower