The beginning of the 90’s in Poland was the time of dynamic changes in economy and politics. Crawling democratic, fortunes made overnight, Rexona deodorants and Disco Polo (disco music on basic beats with simple lyrics) all over city markets. Not many people knew, that in this particular time for Poland, precisely in years 1992-1993 there was a few Poles who applied for UN mission called UNTAC 1992-1993 in Cambodia.
“A few Poles” is obviously a metaphor. 700 of soldiers begun and they were 1200 in total. They were mostly male volunteers with a few women who worked as observers.
UNTAC 1992-1993 – mysterious abbreviation stands for United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia.
The mission involved peacekeeping, securing democratic elections and supervise overall situation of Cambodian civilians after years of atrocious Pol Pot regime.
Today a number of Polish former soldiers who served in UNTAC 1992-1993 mission connected again through Facebook, where a couple of them spontaneously set up a group “Zabujani w Kambodży” – in English “Crushed on Cambodia”. The group constantly grows and with a number of photos, videos and memories from Cambodian mission exceed its official archives.
Below are memories of a former soldier who served in this mission. Piotr (Peter) has settled in the UK, but his heart likes to flee to Khmer’s country sometimes because that’s where a part of him was left.
Crushed on Cambodia… Why did I fell in love with this country? Because it was love at the first sight. I fell in love, although it was a difficult and one-way love at the start. Cambodia ‘acted defensive’ and made me experience its dark side; by illness, dangerous animals, high temperature, mines left after the war, nostalgy for my country and my newly established family, which was the most difficult thing.
l lasted stubbornly and Cambodia finally showed me its beauty – wonderful people marked by atrocious war, breathtaking nature, stunning beaches and delicious fruits. My friends keep asking me “Why this Cambodia is on your mind so much and why do you keep going there?”.
I’ll try to explain it and those of you who’d like to know more are welcomed to visit our Facebook Page ZABUJANI W KAMBODŻY.
1992 was the year when wearing my blue army beret I stood on Cambodian land along with other soldiers who came from all over the world to serve on UN mission – UNTAC. Unforgettable experiences in my first days were spartan living conditions, lack of current water in such a high temperature and getting familiar with locals’ customs and culture. It turned out that the Khmers are dreadfully experienced by destructive war, Cambodia was an unstable country and we were there to help these people to settle.
It was a very hard beginning. Fear of anything that crawled (a snake in the middle of the room and we scared huddled in bed) and marched towards us, like huge spiders for example… On the top of it, notes about mines left over after the war everywhere. Unimaginary fear when someone puts a gun in your mouth or against your temple and only a power of dollar can save your life…
The Khmer people welcomed us in a very friendly manner. Not as an army of the enemy, but soldiers who brought peace. During the mission, I met a lot of friends from other countries and learnt from my more experienced colleagues what friendship and brotherhood are. We lived together and they were there for me in my hardest moments. I’d like to thank all of you!
Each of us experienced the mission in their own way, can judge and remember it differently. Cambodia took one year of my life, or maybe it was me who gave it that time at the emotional expense of my family with whom contact was very limited.
I lost one year of my life because I couldn’t be by my little daughter who at the time was two years old. However, after the mission finished and I got back to Poland somehow I started missing Cambodia and begun dreaming of coming back.
They say that dreams come true and I couldn’t disagree. I ‘ve been to Cambodia three times ever since. It amazing to see that the amount of work we – all soldiers from UNATC mission put in, paid off. The country has developed lots, especially in tourism. Thousands of tourists travel to Cambodia safely and visit places which were unavailable and forbidden for them not so long ago.
It is a great satisfaction to see the Khmer people happy. The people we helped, can live in peace nowadays and what is even more interesting, they remember us. They know how much we helped them and they are truly grateful for it. They respect the sky blue flag and us – the soldiers who served them.
Great job Soldiers of UNTAC!
P.S. I want to go back!
Cruel history involves the whole world. Through centuries to this day, thousands of people give away or expose their life so others, on the other side of the globe, can drink a coffee in the morning and go to work in peace. We would like to dedicate this story to all these soldiers for whom the life of other people regardless of where they’re from, is as much important as the life of their loved ones.
*All photos in this post are the property of Piotr Oller.