These days, Uch Phan thinks often of the US military helicopter that flew several circles around him and his bombed-out Takeo province village, threatening him with its guns 30 years ago.
“I raised my shovel, which I was using to dig a latrine hole, and pointed it at the helicopter. I pretended to shoot at the pilot,” he said. “Then it flew away.”
Like many Cambodians, Uch Phan’s fellow villagers remember the massive US bombings of Cambodia during the war in Vietnam. The bomb craters are still there, used as reservoirs and for irrigation.
And like most Cambodians these days, Uch Phan is engrossed by the news coming out of Afghanistan. The people in his village gather every night around a radio to listen to Voice of America broadcasts on the US-led military campaign against the Taliban regime and the al-Qaida terrorist group to which it plays host.
Vong Pov, a Takeo farmer and a friend of Uch Phan, admits going “news crazy.” He watches news reports on television and marvels at the modern weaponry. And while he worries that innocent civilians will suffer, he joins Uch Phan in supporting the US in its fight against terrorism.
In Phnom Penh and the provinces, many other Cambodians are also going news crazy over Afghanistan. Television and radio sales are up, people are packing rice shops to get the latest news update on the house television set and election monitoring groups are beginning to worry that information on February’s commune council elections will be drowned out by the attention given to the US military campaign.
“The international news on the attacks in Afghanistan is very popular now,” FM 103 station manager Chhorn Peng Leng said. On FM 103’s sister station, TV 3, war updates are so much in demand that the station expanded its news broadcasts from one per night to three, Chhorn Peng Leng said. Staff members are busy frantically translating Cable News Network and British Broadcasting Corp announcements for the non-English speaking audience, he said.
One television vendor at Phsar Olympic said she has seen a definite upswing in customers. She normally sells about 10 TV sets per month, but said she has already sold 30 in October.
Most of the sets are black and white, bought by people who live in the provinces and want to keep abreast of the news, vendors reported. There have also been brisk sales of small transistor radios that cost around $3 each, vendors said.
And just as during the 1991 Persian Gulf war, vendors are making money by videotaping images from CNN and the BBC on TV and reselling them at markets to people who do not have access to those networks.
Among those apprehensive about all the interest in the Afghanistan war is Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, who said the war is diverting too much attention from next February’s local elections.
“For now, and in the days to come, the US attacks against terrorism has become the number one news item our voters find on TV or radio, and educating voters on their rights and other relevant issues are being pushed aside to number two or three,” he said. “We are very worried about this.”