Ding dong, etc

April 9, 2013

British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher rides a tank in 1986

So Margaret Thatcher has finally died. As a child in Britain in the 1980s, I had, like almost everyone, fairly strong feelings about her, and what she did to the country. But this is a Cambodia-centric blog, so I won’t go on about her, except in relation to the situation here. And, it has to be said, she didn’t cover herself in glory.

After the liberation of Cambodia by Vietnamese forces in 1979, the US, who were not best pleased at having had their asses handed to them during the “American War”, as they call it in Vietnam, continued to do everything they could to stymie the Viet Cong. And this included continuing to support Pol Pot’s dementedly murderous Khmer Rouge. This is despite them having killed a third of the innocent population of Cambodia.

Thatcher’s stance was clear – Britain did not recognise the new communist Vietnamese government in Cambodia. So between 1985 and 1989, Britain’s elite Special Air Service (SAS) ran a series of training camps for Khmer Rouge allies in Thailand close to the Cambodian border and created a ‘sabotage battalion’ of 250 experts in explosives and ambushes. Intelligence experts in Singapore also ran training courses.

Jane’s Defence Weekly reported that the British training for the members of the ‘coalition’ had been going on “at secret bases in Thailand for more than four years”.

The instructors were from the SAS, “all serving military personnel, all veterans of the Falklands conflict, led by a captain”.

The Cambodian training became an exclusively British operation after 1986.

“If Congress had found out that Americans were mixed up in clandestine training in Indochina, let alone with Pol Pot,” a Ministry of Defense source told Simon O’Dwyer-Russell of the Sunday Telegraph, “the balloon would have gone right up. It was one of those classic Thatcher-Reagan arrangements. It was put to her that the SAS should take over the Cambodia show, and she agreed.”

In 1991, journalist John Pilger interviewed a member of ‘R’ Squadron of the SAS, who had served on the border. “We trained the KR in a lot of technical stuff – a lot about mines,” he told him.

“We used mines that came originally from Royal Ordnance in Britain, which we got by way of Egypt with marking changed … we even gave them psychological training. At first, they wanted to go into the villages and just chop people up. We told them how to go easy.”

A report by Asia Watch filled in some details: the SAS had taught “the use of improvised explosive devices, booby traps and the manufacture and use of time-delay devices”.

The author of the report, Rae McGrath (who shared a joint Nobel Peace Prize for the campaign on landmines), wrote in the Guardian that “the SAS training was a criminally irresponsible and cynical policy”.

The former SAS soldier Chris Ryan, now a best-selling author, lamented that “when John Pilger, the foreign correspondent, discovered we were training the Khmer Rouge in the Far East [we] were sent home and I had to return the £10,000 we’d been given for food and accommodation”.

It is fashionable in many circles to loathe John Pilger, but not many Cambodians do. As he put it: “Henry Kissinger, whose bombing opened the door to the nightmare of Year Zero, is still at large. Cambodians remain desperately poor, dependent on an often seedy tourism and sweated labour.  For me, their resilience remains almost magical. In the years that followed their liberation, I never saw as many weddings or received as many wedding invitations. They became symbols of life and hope. And yet, only in Cambodia would a child ask an adult, as a twelve-year-old asked me, with fear crossing his face: ‘Are you a friend? Please say.’”


One Response to “Ding dong, etc”

  1. Denise Tetzlaff said

    Their resilience is magical. So enjoyed following your blog. The insight you gave us on life here has been invaluable. After living here for the last 7 months all I can say is we will miss the magic. We met you and your wife at the 252 just after your awful accident and hope u are well and your lives here remain magical.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: