July 5th 2009 was a memorable day for me and including all those that had served with the Malaysian Army Contingent under the auspices of the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) from March 15th 1992 to July 5th 1993. Sixteen long years have passed from the day the contingent returned home to Malaysia after a 15 months tour of duty with the UN in Cambodia.
Out of the 850 strong army contingent, today only a small percentage of officers still remains in service, while almost 90% of the other ranks have retired. I still have in my personal possession the entire list all those officers and other ranks that were with the contingent, and it saddens me for not being able to maintain their exact whereabouts and their present preoccupation.
At the time when I completed documenting our experience in Cambodia in a book in 2004, there were already seven members of the contingent that had passed away, and I do not know now if that number have changed. I knew fairly well each and everyone of them, and one in particular whom I had talked to during my usual round of visits to the forward locations, died on a UN evacuation flight to Bangkok after having been diagnosed for malaria.
The 15 months tour in Cambodia was not without its excitement or danger. I personally felt some stressful moments of having to fulfill my responsibilities amidst the uncertain security and political environment surrounding the entire UN mission, especially during the period leading up to the UN sponsored general elections.
Political killing was on the rise, and the UN electoral workers who were deployed to the remote areas to established polling stations were threatened by some rouge soldiers. Some polling stations had to withdraw until such time the electoral workers personal safety was ensured. This was when we needed the Cambodian provincial military units to assist us in ensuring security, and they did so after some serious discussions with their leaders. I suppose, it was their trust in us, and our sincerity and hard work to bring peace to Cambodia that had made them realised the importance of a successful general elections.
Had the Cambodian military units refused to assist us, we would surely have failed in creating a safe environment for the people to come out to cast their votes during the election. Because of the close cooperation that we had with the Cambodian military units and the UN electoral workers, the Battambang province in which we were responsible recorded the highest voter turnout for the whole of Cambodia i.e. 95% voters turnout or 288,993 voters, out of the 303,705 voters registered.
I knew that my officers and soldiers played a sterling role throughout the period of the general elections, and some sleepless nights for those deployed in the interior where they were constantly faced with uncertain dangers.
Our return to Malaysia on July 5th 2009, were well received by officers and our families, and what had made our tour meaningful was that we had succeeded in giving the Cambodians the opportunity to cast their votes through a democratic process, and to elect a legitimate government of their choice. Cambodians have been deprived of a general election for decades, and their sufferings under the dreaded Khmer Rogue is still being felt till this very moment.
I would like to conclude by saying that Malaysia through the participation of its military contingent and staffs during the period of UNTAC had contributed to the peace and prosperity that Cambodia enjoys today. And let us hope that through her participation in ASEAN, Cambodia will no longer be the rouge state that she once was, but a thriving democracy with every opportunity to prosper and remain peaceful like all others within ASEAN.
And to all the officers and soldiers who were with me throughout the trying period in Cambodia, I only have this to say, “that without your cooperation and hard work, we would not have succeeded in our mission in Cambodia, and for this I remain thankful to all of you”.
CRUSADE AGAINST CORRUPTION