Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Peacekeeper killed in Central African Republic



Peacekeeper killed in Central African Republic

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Cambodian peacekeepers at a base in Lebanon pay their respects yesterday to Im Sam, a Cambodian peacekeeper with the mission to Central African Republic who was killed in a guerrilla attack on Monday night. Photo supplied

Peacekeeper killed in Central African Republic

Cambodians at home and abroad yesterday mourned the passing of peacekeeper Im Sam, who was shot to death during a guerrilla ambush in Central African Republic. He was the Kingdom’s first peacekeeper to ever be killed in combat, officials said.

Sam, 36, who was serving in Central African Republic as a bulldozer driver, was travelling in a convoy when it was targeted by unidentified “armed elements” at around 8pm on Monday night near the village of Yogofongo.

Another Cambodian peacekeeper, Thuch Thim, suffered an injury to his left hand in the attack, and an additional three Cambodians – quality control assistant Seang Norin, excavator driver assistant Mom Tola and medical staffer Mao Eng – remain missing.

The 12 peacekeepers – an unarmed crew of Cambodian engineers accompanied by armed Moroccan forces – were returning from a work site in Rafai to their base in Bangassou when the guerrillas struck.

Details about the armed assailants – who fled into the bush after the attack – remain unknown. The resource-rich CAR has been ravaged by violent atrocities and the conscription of child soldiers, with the two main armed groups being the Muslim Seleka and the largely Christian and animist Anti-Balaka.

A statement provided by Cambodia’s National Centre for Peacekeeping Forces (NPMEC) confirmed the attack was motivated by guerrillas’ demands to liberate prisoners held by Moroccan forces.

In a speech yesterday, Prime Minister Hun Sen was the first to offer his condolences to Sam’s family for the blue helmet who had “sacrificed his life”.He questioned whether the missing Cambodians had fled or were kidnapped, and requested the UN to pay close attention to protecting the lives of their troops.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
The body of Cambodian UN peacekeeper Im Sam, who was killed in a guerrilla attack on Monday night, is taken off of a plane in Bria, in Central African Republic. Photo supplied

Pech Sambath, Sam’s superior officer, described him as “a great colleague”. “We give our heartfelt appreciation for the heroism of Im Sam, who has sacrificed [his life] for the national cause,” he said in a statement.

Photos circulating on social media, meanwhile, showed Cambodian peacekeepers in Lebanon standing in formation as the Cambodian flag flew at half mast in Sam’s honour.

The UN’s Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (Minusca) condemned the killing in a statement yesterday.

“Minusca vigorously denounces this odious attack on peacekeepers whose presence on Central African soil has no other objective than to help the country to protect its population and to allow the Central African Republic to emerge from the cycle of violence caused by armed groups,” it read.

It stressed that harming the life of a peacekeeper can be considered a war crime and that Minusca would do everything possible to ensure the perpetrators were brought to justice.

The special representative of the secretary-general and head of Minusca, Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, extended his “deepest and heartfelt condolences to the family of the victim, his contingent and his country”.

Intense speculation surrounded Sam’s death yesterday after South Korean Ambassador Long Dimanche claimed on Facebook that the peacekeeper had been beheaded – an account refuted by NPMEC spokesperson Kosal Malinda. “I would deny the report that he was beheaded The person was shot,” she said.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
UN peacekeeper Im Sam poses with a friend in an undated picture. Photo supplied

A photo circulated late yesterday, purportedly of Sam’s body, appeared to show his head intact and two deep gashes to his abdomen, but Malinda said she could not confirm the image’s authenticity.

Despite the violence and tragedy of the attack, NPMEC Deputy Director-General Phal Samorn, said Cambodia’s expertise in demining – coupled with the UN peacekeeping assistance it received in 1993 – meant it was both obligated and “proud” to serve in dangerous countries abroad. “We used to have war, that’s why we have to help them. It is humanitarian work for us,” Samorn said.

Dr Paul Chambers, a lecturer in international affairs at Naresuan University in Thailand, said post-conflict countries tend to bear a bigger burden than industrialised ones in supplying blue helmets, but noted there was also a financial incentive for poorer militaries like the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) in the form of UN income. “The dangerous burden is borne by lower-echelon Cambodian soldiers who often find themselves in . . . harm’s way,” he said via email.

“The benefits are the enhanced prestige, UN funding and experience for the RCAF and its senior officers. This is the tragedy of Cambodia’s military hierarchy.”

A total of six Cambodian blue helmets have died on missions abroad, including Sam, although he is the first to be killed in combat. Four passed away in Mali one from – malaria, one in a sandstorm and two due to food poisonin – while another died in the CAR from malaria.

A previous version of the article incorrectly stated the position of Dr Paul Chambers. He is a lecturer in international affairs at Naresuan University in Thailand. The Post apologises for the error.

MOST VIEWED

  • Phnom Penh placed in two-week lockdown

    The government has decided to place Phnom Penh in lockdown for two weeks, effective April 14 midnight through April 28, as Cambodia continues to grapple with the ongoing community outbreak of Covid-19, which has seen no sign of subsiding. According to a directive signed by Prime Minister

  • Cambodia on the verge of national tragedy, WHO warns

    The World Health Organisation (WHO) in Cambodia warned that the country had reached another critical point amid a sudden, huge surge in community transmission cases and deaths. “We stand on the brink of a national tragedy because of Covid-19. Despite our best efforts, we are

  • Hun Sen: Stay where you are, or else

    Prime Minister Hun Sen warned that the two-week lockdown of Phnom Penh and adjacent Kandal provincial town Takmao could be extended if people are not cooperative by staying home. “Now let me make this clear: stay in your home, village, and district and remain where

  • Businesses in capital told to get travel permit amid lockdown through One Window Service

    The Phnom Penh Municipal Administration has issued guidelines on how to get travel permission for priority groups during the lockdown of Phnom Penh, directing private institutions to apply through the municipality's One Window Service and limit their staff to a mere two per cent. In

  • Vaccination open to foreigners in Cambodia

    The Ministry of Health on April 8 issued an announcement on Covid-19 vaccination for foreigners residing and working in Cambodia, directing the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training and local authorities to register them. Health minister Mam Bun Heng, who is also head of the inter-ministerial

  • Ministry names types of business permitted amid lockdown

    The Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training singled out 11 types of business that are permitted to operate during the lockdown of Phnom Penh and Takmao town, which run through April 28. Those include (1) food-processing enterprises and slaughterhouses; (2) providers of public services such as firefighting, utility and