Nothing to say sorry for:
September 17, 2007, 2:50 am
Filed under: History


Nothing to say sorry for: Japanese remembered as friends

By Moeun Chhean Nariddh


TAKEO – The letter begins: “Japan, 23 March 1994.

“Dear Friend, I’ve been so busy I haven’t had time to write, but I haven’t forgotten our friendship.

“My wish for Cambodia is peace… Take it easy. Have a big beer and give my best wishes to Sridung and Wee and Sina and Sathiko and everyone else. – Tomoyoshi.”

Oum Srin, 39, of Takeo, keeps this as his most personal momento of the time spent with the former Japanese peace-keepers.

“Both the Japanese [soldiers] and the villagers cried when they left,” Srin said of the troops who pulled out in Sept 1993. “They regarded us as their brothers and sisters,” he said.

The Japanese government sent more than 600 troops to participate in the Cambodian peacekeeping mission between 1991-93, Tokyo’s first overseas military operation since World War II.

People here talk only about the fine work done by the Japanese engineering battalion.

Many villagers who lived near the Japanese UNTAC barracks said they made life-long friends with the soldiers.

Srin said soldiers brought their food to share with the villagers; and took children to the markets to buy books, pens, shoes and toys.

“They were honest and strict to their appointment,” Srin said.

Srin recalled the time when he helped a clumsy Japanese friend wear a krama [Cambodian scarf] around his waist. He still remembers the “Ohaiyo” and “Sayonara” greetings when his friends came to see him on Sunday mornings.

“They loved us very much – both young and old people,” said Srin’s neighbor Mok Srey Mom.

Mom said some Japanese soldiers took small children, including her’s, to stay in hotels in Phnom Penh for a few days before they left.

She emotionally added: “I miss them very much.”

The villagers say they feel very nostalgic when they pass by the former Japanese barracks, which have been converted into a regional training center for rural development.

The compound is still surrounded by barbed wire and concrete posts, but the forty apartments are mostly empty.

The regulations written on an iron sheet at the front gate have been rubbed out by the weather; only the first line can be read: “Here is the Japanese Engineering Battalion camp.”

Next to a huge pile of empty asphalt barrels is a solar generated container of running water made by the soldiers, where villagers come to get their drinking water.

The past – the alleged bad treatment of Khmers by the World War II Japanese, something still taught in history books today – is forgotten.

Locals can’t imagine the Japanese behaving any differently than how they did during UNTAC.

Even though former Cambodian Premier Pen Sovann argued that the Japanese government should compensate Cambodia for what its soldiers did during World War II, the Royal Government has assured Tokyo that it would not seek any such payment.

The government agrees with the former coolies that the treatment by the Japanese soldiers during World War II was “mild.”

Cambodian Foreign Minister Ung Huot said he had no discussion on this topic when his Japanese counterpart Yohei Kono visited in August this year.

Neither was the “global” apology made by the Japanese Prime Minister during the 50th anniversary of the end of WWII arlier this year conveyed by the Japanese Foreign Minister to Cambodia – nor was it demanded, says Huot.

“We have told Japan that our Royal Government will not demand any compensation for [the damage] during WWII like other countries,” Huot said.

“For Cambodia, we’ve told them that we will not recall the things in the past,” he added.

The “grant aid” from Japan to Cambodia has been remarkable, more than $372.5 million having been spent here since 1991, according to the Japanese Embassy documents, including multilateral and bilateral aid programs.

Phnom Penh Post, Issue 4/19, September 22 – October 5, 1995
© Michael Hayes, 2000. All rights revert to authors and artists on publication.
For permission to publish any part of this publication, contact
Michael Hayes, Editor-in-Chief – Any comments on the website to



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