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Peacekeepers’ bodies found

May Titthara / Khmer Times Share:
Mom Tola. Supplied

A total of four Cambodian soldiers working with the United Nations’ peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic have been confirmed killed and another was injured in Monday’s attack in the volatile African country.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres condemned the incident, saying it might constitute a war crime and called on Central African authorities to investigate and swiftly bring those responsible to justice.
One peacekeeper is still missing following the attack by suspected anti-Balaka Christian militias in the southeast of the country, near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“The Secretary-General strongly condemns the attack perpetrated by suspected anti-Balaka,” a UN statement said.
“The attack led to the death of four peacekeepers while ten others have been evacuated to Bangui. One peacekeeper is still missing.”
Mr Guterres offered his condolences to the bereaved families, as well as to the governments of countries of the killed peacekeepers.
 Phal Samorn, the deputy director-general of the National Centre for Peacekeeping Forces, earlier said he had received confirmation from Moroccan officers that another three Cambodian peacekeepers who went missing after the rebels attacked the UN mission in the Central African Republic on May 8 had been found dead.
Their bodies were found about two kilometres from the location of the attack.
“All three bodies were discovered by a pastor who has a church nearby. Three bodies were in Bangassou awaiting transport by a UN helicopter to the city of Bangui today,” he said.
“I don’t know when the bodies will arrive in Cambodia because that’s under the direction of the UN.”  According to a press release from the Ministry of National Defence, the dead troops were First Lieutenant Im Som, who was born on October 10, 1980, and lived in Kompong Kdei village in Siem Reap province. He had a 13-year-old son and worked as a bulldozer driver.
Warrant-officer Mom Tola was born on April 7, 1986, and lived in Kbal Hong village in Pursat province. He was single and worked as an assistant excavator driver.
Captain Mao Eng was born on April 5, 1980, and lived in Sangkat Srah Chak, Khan Daun Penh, Phnom Penh. He had two sons and one daughter aged from 12 to 16 and worked with the medical team.  
The final Cambodian peacekeeper killed was Warrant Officer Seang Norin, who was born on March 4, 1982, and lived in Sagkat Toek La’ak, Khan Tuol Kok, Phnom Penh. He was single and worked as a quality control assistant.
The statement from the Defence Ministry expressed great regret and sadness, and sent condolences to the families, adding that they lost their lives working on international humanitarian missions under the UN.
Prime Minister Hun Sen, in a speech at Koh Pich in Phnom Penh commemorating Veteran’s Day, confirmed the news of the deaths.
“We do not surrender to any terrorism and we do not surrender to any attack,” he said.
“Cambodia will not step back from peacekeeping operations but will instead commit more troops to war-ravaged countries.
“I would like to ask the United Nations who are responsible for the attacks on the peacekeeping forces. The Ministry of National Defence will also send a team to inspect the scene.”
The prime minister added that the posting on Facebook by Long Dimanche, Cambodia’s ambassador to South Korea, claiming the peacekeepers were beheaded by the rebels, was not correct.
“The troops in Central Africa were not beheaded,” he said.
He added that he hoped the peacekeeping forces in other countries would not be shocked by the incident and be more motivated to maintaining peace.
Nuth Neang Buna, the mother of Mom Total who lives in Pursat province, said she was shocked when she heard the news about her son being killed in Africa while he was working there.
“When he worked there for six months he called me and said he was worried about me because I am a widow and old, and he said that our family will meet six months later,” she recalled.
“I have not received a phone call from him for three months and now he is dead. I really pity my son, he was only 36 and not married yet, and now he is dead. I really don’t know what to do because I am old.”
The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in the Central African Republic said it was deeply saddened to confirm that three of the four peacekeepers who were missing in action since the attack had been found dead.
The four peacekeepers went missing after a deadly attack on their convoy on Monday night near the village of Yogofongo, 20km from Bangassou.
During an exchange of fire, one Cambodian peacekeeper and eight anti-Balaka elements were killed.
There were a number of injuries on both sides.
The UN mission is working with Central African Republic officials to to bring the attackers to justice.
The mission said harming the life of a peacekeeper could be considered a war crime and subject to prosecution.
Mission head Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, extended his “deepest and heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims” and expressed his “immense gratitude for the work and sacrifices of the peacekeepers in the Central African Republic”.
Cambodia peacekeepers have also been sent to Chad, Sudan, South Sudan, Lebanon, Cyprus, Mali and Syria. About 1,000 soldiers are rotated every year.
Cambodia has sent 3,557 peacekeepers abroad, including 118 women, since 2006.
The Central African Republic has been embroiled in chaos since 2013, when Muslim rebels overthrew the Christian president.
The UN launched a peacekeeping mission in the country in 2014 and now has more than 12,000 troops deployed to protect civilians from unprecedented deadly violence between Christian and Muslim factions.
The Central African Republic has faced sporadic violence and instability after years of sectarian fighting, with 890,000 people displaced inside the country and into neighbouring Cameroon, according to the UN.

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