Untac Accused of Theft, Drugs, Womanizing

An expose detailing corruption, sex scandals and drunken benders of various UN peacekeeping missions, including Untac, has hit markets this month, ruffling feathers at the highest ranks of the world body.  

The book, “Emergency Sex & Other Desperate Measures: A True Story From Hell on Earth,” went ahead despite efforts by the UN to block it, reports said.

The UN has threatened disciplinary action against two of the book’s co-authors, Heidi Postle­wait and Andrew Thomson, both of whom worked in Cambodia under Untac and are still on the UN payroll, reports said.

Writer Kenneth Cain also co-authored the book, which gives first-person accounts of wild sex parties, widespread expense fraud and drug use among UN officials during missions in Cam­bodia, Somalia, Haiti, Rw­anda, Liberia and Bosnia, reports said.

In Cambodia, the book states, UN officials appeared to be “jet set on vacation,” according to The Australian newspaper.

The book also charges that Bulgaria offered to free prison inmates if they agreed to work for    the UN in Cambodia, reports said.

According to one news report, Cain describes the Bulgarians as “a battalion of criminal lunatics…. They’re drunk as sailors, rape vulnerable Cambodian women and crash their UN Land Cruisers with remarkable frequency.”

UN officials in Phnom Penh declined to comment on the matter last week.

UN Secretary-General spokes­man Fred Eckhard, however, told CNN the book was “a sensational and selective account of peackeeping.” UN officials also told CNN the accounts were of just “a few bad apples.”

Though the book is not yet readily available in Cambodia, some former Untac officials here last week recalled their own experiences with the UN.

Tor Vicheth, 38, who worked in Untac from its establishment in 1991 to its withdrawal from Cambodia in 1993, said his boss and foreign co-workers in Untac’s transportation unit often required his help to secure prostitutes.

“They said ‘We want to go to the happy, happy place,’” Tor Vicheth said, after which he would drive them to a brothel and wait in the car “one hour or two hours” before driving them back.

“Sometimes I didn’t want to bring them to the brothel, but they were my bosses, so I drove them to the brothel,” he said.

Drug use was less frequent, he said. “Maybe only a few people used drugs.”

But petty corruption, in the form of bogus claims for overtime payments and vehicle theft, was regular, Tor Vicheth said.

“Some people did not work. But they go to sit at the office and look like they are active [but] get overtime” pay, he said.

Both foreign and local UN staff at the transportation department also copied keys to their UN vehicles, which they would then slip to their friends. The vehicles would then mysteriously “disappear” and wind up sold to high-ranking government officials, for as much as $24,000 for a Toyota Land Cruiser, he said.

“This I saw,” he said.

Rampant vehicle theft was “well managed,” agreed Vong Mitta, who also worked for Untac.

“UN staff [would] hold the car keys,” he said. But when the vehicles disappeared, “they tried to make up what happened.”

Such abuses and sexual ex­ploits are widely documented in other accounts of the Untac mission.

In the 1994 book “The UNfin­ished Settlement of the Cam­bodia Conflict,” Lao Mong Hay wrote that many Cambod­ians eventually lost respect for Untac when some of its staff were seen visiting brothels, womanizing and displaying “excessive public drunkenness at bars and nightclubs.”

Before Untac’s actual deployment, Lao Mong Hay wrote, “Cam­bodian leaders expressed moral disapproval of Untac’s request for the supply of additional prostitutes to serve its peacekeepers,” and also raised concern about the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Though he downplayed the sexual exploits of UN officials here, government spokesman Khieu Kanharith on Sunday questioned Untac’s efficacy, measured against the mission’s estimated $2 billion price tag.

“If they spent $2 billion, it should help Cambodia,” he said.

Despite the mission’s shortfalls, however, Tor Vicheth and Vong Mitta defended Untac.

“Untac came to Cambodia to bring democracy, security, peace and human rights…This is the advantage,” Tor Vicheth said. “For the prostitution and sex, it’s not so bad. This is the small thing in exchange for the bigger one.”

(Additional reporting by Van Roeun)


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