24 November 2015

Uruguayan UNTAC Cover from Stung Treng

The cacheted airmail cover illustrated above was sent to Bregenz of Austria by a member of the UNTAC Uruguayan battalion in Stung Treng.  Postage of 700r for Europe was tied by a 1980s type Stung Treng postmark dated 19th July 1993, the mailing time was within the evacuation phrase of the battalion.  Via Bangkok the mail took 9 days to the Austrian destination on 28th of the same month.

During the 1992-1993 United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) operations, Uruguay contributed 1,330 soldiers which was nearly 5.5% of the country’s total armed forces.  This is Uruguay's first large-scale deployment abroad involving troops and contingents from different services.  The battalion had four units positioned across four Cambodian provinces.

The official cachet of the Uruguayan battalion shown on cover.  The inscription reads:
"Batallon de Infanteria Especial "Uruguay", R.O.U - U.N.T.A.C, Oficial de Operaciones"

Stung Treng is located in the remote northern Cambodia, initially it was the territory of the Khmer Empire, then the Lao Kingdom of Lan Xang and later the Lao Kingdom of Champassack, eventually in 1904 ceded back to Cambodia.  In 1992 UNTAC divided Cambodia into nine operational sectors, Stung Treng and the provinces of Kratie, Rattanakiri and Mondulkiri formed Sector 4 with the Uruguayan battalion assigned to it.  Equipment was sent from Montevideo to Stung Treng via Bangkok.

Location of Sector 4 which includes the province of Stung Treng.
The red dot locates the provincial capital, Stung Treng town.
(Credit: Managing Arms In Peace Processes: Cambodia, UNIDIR, 1996 )

The primary aim of deployment in Stung Treng was to maintain peace and order as banditry was still a thread to civilians, and to ensure smooth operation of the electoral office.  The elections were organised by Johann B. SΓΌnder, a Dutch who just retired from a U.N. career.  In Stung Treng town the well equipped yet very little used UNTAC hospital (exclusively for UNTAC personnels) was run by Indians, and there was a multi national police force. 

Homeland to the Khmer Loeu, Stung Treng is one of Cambodia's most remote and least developed provinces, the province is not attractive to investors and definitely not a choice for most tourists.  Henry Kamm mentions in his book Cambodia: Report From a Stricken Land that, after the Uruguayan battalion had arrived in Stung Treng, "Hola amigo!" was the most popular greeting to all foreigners by local children during the UNTAC eraLao is still widely spoken now in Stung Treng town and trade is expected to expand after the reconstruction of the Khmer-Lao border section of National Highway 7.