Following an article titled ‘Massacre in the Tonle Sap’ that I had posted a earlier, I now wish to post another article regarding the Malaysian Army contingent experience in Cambodia on UN peacekeeping duties .
There were three major incidences worthy of note, that were life threatening to our soldiers deployed in the frontline areas, in the Battambang province. For this posting, I would like to describe the first incident that occurred in the district of Phum Bovel.
It was in the early morning of December 9th, 1992, at D Company’s location at Phum Bovel, where the company came under mortar attack from Khmer Rouge’s known positions at Ta Cot and Deisar. A day before, there were already rumours of the attack, and this had caused villages nearby to evacuate the surrounding area.
At around 5.45 am that fateful day, the Khmer Rouge launched its first mortar attack which fell close to the company’s base camp. This caused the soldiers who had awoken some time earlier to scurry to safety at the nearby town. Subsequent shells fell into the base camp, but none scored a direct hit at the wooden accommodation blocks of the soldiers.
One would wonder why had the soldiers vacated their base camp for the safety of the town, and not bunkered themselves to defend the base camp? The reason was because, firstly, the mission was one of peacekeeping, and the soldiers are not to view the warring Cambodian factions as their enemy. Hence, in whatever they do, they ought to be seen as being defensive. Having to construct bunkers, observation post, barb wire perimeter fence and heavy machine gun post around the base, would be seen by the Cambodians as being offensive. This was exactly what the Dutch Army contingent did, that angered the locals.
Secondly, even if the soldiers had taken all of the above defensive measures, and defended the base, still there is nothing that the soldiers could do to retaliate the mortar shelling, because the company was not equipped with indirect fire weapons, such as mortars or artillery guns. So why then do they need to defend the base camp, and to be targeted upon like ‘shooting ducks’?
The impact of the mortar shelling, caused some damages to the wooden panels of some of the buildings. A shell which dropped close to the ammunition dump failed to explode, and this saved the company of untoward casualties to the soldiers . In all, a total of 15 mortar shells were accounted.
Soon after the attack, the Cambodian government forces which was located in proximity to D Company, launched a series of counter attacks into Khmer Rouge held areas capturing two locations i.e. Phum Ta Hen and Pong Ro. However, the counter attack forces did not proceed further to capture Ta Cot and Deisar, for unknown reason.
Upon being informed of the attack, I hastily proceeded to Phum Bovel, only to find the soldiers huddled in groups in the town area; a sight reminiscing that of Cambodian returnees that we had first witnessed, during their repatriation into Cambodia, from the Thai-Cambodia border.
Despite their ordeal, the soldiers did not display any signs of fear or trauma, but remained high spirited and unscathed. This I thought, was the hallmark of a highly trained and motivated soldiers, for which Malaysians ought to be extremely proud off.