The silicone likeness of an Untac-era peacekeeper and his mini-skirted companion is the star attraction at a Siem Reap province wax museum, a museum official said Tuesday.
“A lot of people, mostly Khmer, are very interested in seeing the statue of the Untac soldier,” said Ung Borin, the museum spokesman. “The statue of the Untac soldier is the best one in the museum. People are very impressed with it.”
The 21-hectare Cambodian Cultural Village opened on Aug 24 along the road to Angkor Wat. The museum features 39 figures, including members of the royal family, scholars and pop stars.
“Ten thousand people visited the Cultural Village over the Water Festival weekend,” Ung Borin said.
While the exhibit of the Untac peacekeeper is no doubt a familiar image to those who were in Cambodia during the UN’s 1991-93 presence, it certainly is not one the world body would like exhibited for tourists.
“It’s a pity that is the best depiction they can have in Cambodia,” acting UN representative Rodney Hatfield said Tuesday.
Hatfield said he had not visited the museum but had heard of the Untac exhibit. He also said the UN probably would not complain to the museum, because it would not want to appear to be suppressing history.
“Obviously it is not a complimentary depiction,” he said. “At the same time it’s probably not incorrect.”
While visiting the wax museum with his family on Tuesday, Keo Sok Nan, 30, of Siem Reap town, expressed his own disapproval.
“It shows a bad image of the Khmer tradition because it shows a girl and a man hugging in public. The management of the wax museum should put up a good image of the Untac soldiers, such as depicting their productive activities,” he said.
Ung Borin said the statues are not meant to criticize the UN mission, only entertain visitors and show “just one aspect of the lifestyle they had.”
“I like this statue, but when I see this, it reminds me of the time when Untac soldiers stayed in Cambodia and this statue symbolizes the arrival of AIDS,” said Ta Phann, 50, who was also visiting the museum with family.
Although the AIDS charge cannot be proven, the peacekeepers’ arrival caused a commercial sex boom. Lao Mong Hay, in his book “The UNfinished Settlement of the Cambodia Conflict,” wrote that the UN staffers’ appetite for prostitution compromised the effectiveness and moral authority of Untac.
“Even before Untac’s actual deployment, Cambodian leaders expressed moral disapproval of Untac’s request for the supply of additional prostitutes to serve its peacekeepers,” he wrote.
Lao Mong Hay went on to note that Cambodians themselves did little to rein in the sex trade.
Hatfield described the Untac mission as a “high-risk situation,” marked by an influx of single men, far from home, with spare time and money to spend.
But the UN may have learned some lessons. Orders prevented peacekeepers on the East Timor mission from openly availing of the services of poor local women attracted by high international salaries.