5 July 2010

First & Last UNTAC Mail in Cambodia

The United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) era is exciting for military mail collectors as well as modern Cambodia specialists. Just finding out the first and last day of UNTAC mail in Cambodia is already bit of a game.

Throughout the operation, including that of the forerunner the United Nations Advance Mission in Cambodia (UNAMIC), UNTAC mail in Cambodia either went through the Cambodian civilian postal system, or delivered by the military mail service of individual troops. Some were carried to Thailand for dispatch but this happened mostly at the northwest border.

The French were one of the earliest who set up military post office in Cambodia, they did it before UNAMIC came into operation.

From the UN source, UNAMIC became operational officially on 9th November 1991 when Mr A.H.S. Ataul Karim (Bangladesh) assumed his functions as Chief Liaison Officer of UNAMIC in Phnom Penh.

Brigadier-General Michel Loridon (France), Senior Military Liaison Officer, assumed command of the military elements of UNAMIC on 12th November and, on the same day, an air operations unit contributed by France arrived in Phnom Penh. However a week before all these, Bureau Postal Militaire 211(BPM 211) had been created on 4th November in Phnom Penh to serve the French detachment. Below shows a BPM211 cover dated 10th November, that was the 2nd day when UNAMIC officially operated:

It is quite hard to determine the last day of UNTAC mail. Although UNTAC scheduled to completely withdrew by 15th November 1993, later the UN Security Council decided to extend to 30th November for UNTAC's Mine Clearance and Training Unit, and to 31st December for elements of the military police and medical components of UNTAC. Except for those units, UNTAC's military component withdrew by 15th November.

When we thought 31st December 1993 would be the very last day then, in fact it wasn't.

On 26 September 1993, the Royal Government of Cambodia requested the UN Secretary-General to consider the possibility of keeping 20 to 30 unarmed UN military observers in Cambodia for 6 months following the end of UNTAC's mandate. This military liaison team were to maintain close liaison with the Royal Government and report to the Secretary-General on matters affecting security.

The request was approved and the United Nations Military Liaison Team operated in Phnom Penh from 15th November 1993 to 15th May 1994.

Strictly speaking the Liaison Team was not part of UNTAC, however in a letter by the Pouch Unit of UNTAC in Phnom Penh to the US APO (cover shown below) postmarked 9th May 1994, it mentioned that UNTAC Headquarter would completely close down on 15th May 1994. This shows at least the UNTAC mail and the UNTAC headquarter operated throughout the Liaison Team's mandate.

A close up of the meter cancellation, the ink is very blur, but it is easy to read the date by the press mark:

Background of UNAMIC and UNTAC

The United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) was a United Nations operation from 1992 to 1994. It was to implement the Agreements on a Comprehensive Political Settlement of the Cambodia Conflict signed in Paris in 1991, which commonly known as the Paris Peace Accords. UNTAC was the 1st time the UN took over the administration of an independent member state, and organized and ran an election as opposed to monitoring or supervising in all its previous peace missions.

After the collapse of Pol Pot regime (Khmer Rouge) in 1979, Cambodia quickly plunged into a new round of fighting between different factions. In 1989 peace efforts began in Paris, and 2 years later the UN was given a mandate to enforce a ceasefire, deal with refugees and disarmament, and hold general elections.

The first advance mission sent to Cambodia by the UN was the United Nations Advance Mission in Cambodia (UNAMIC), it assisted the Cambodian parties in maintaining ceasefire, and later initiated a mine-clearance programme.

Flag of UNTAC

Upon becoming operational on 15th March 1992, UNTAC absorbed UNAMIC. Next year after the general elections were held and in September the Royal Government of Cambodia was inaugurated, UNTAC orderly withdrew from the country.

The operation cost US$1.62 billion. 22,000 contributors of military and civilian police personnel from 45 countries were involved.

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