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Cambodia and the Year of UNTAC

 On the book’s cover, above, is, on the left, the heroine, Sovan; I’m on the right. In the background is Cambodia’s most famous temple, Angkor Wat. We both worked for UNTAC, United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia, which was organizing and directing the 1993 election in Cambodia that ended Cambodia’s civil war.

I was there from the beginning to the end of the operation. Sovan was hired a few months after I was.

BELOW: In the early 1980s, I worked in Thailand teaching Cambodians who were on their way to the USA. At that time Cambodia was isolated from the international community. Tom Riddle with Cambodian refugee students in the Panat Nikhom Processing Center in 1983 Breakfast in the Panat Nikhom Refugee Processing Center with Cambodian students in 1983

In 1992, and in the first months of 1993, many people started either returning to or going to Cambodia for the first time–some of them came back from the border camps in trains while others, like Prince Sihanouk, the former king; Khieu Samphan, the spokesperson for the Khmer Rouge; United Nations officials, and me, flew in.

A family on a train returning from border camps as the year of UNTAC begins in early 1992.

Prince Sihanouk, the former King of Cambodia, returning to Cambodia

Khieu Samphan, the spokesperson for the Khmer Rouge meeting the press in Phnom Penh

Yasushi Akashi, the head of UNTAC - to his right is Lieutenant General John Sanderson, the military head.

Tom Riddle's ID card -- the 21st UNV or United Nations Volunteer to arrive in Cambodia.

The next 11 pictures show life in Phnom Penh in 1992 and 93. At that same time, in the countryside, de-mining operations were in full swing as were efforts to provide land mine victims with artificial limbs.

The Le Royal Hotel where UNVs were initially housed -- much of the movie THE KILLING FIELDS took place here Central Market in Phnom Penh - an art-deco masterpiece A restaurant in Central Market--good food, reasonable price. The view from the broken bridge in downtown Phnom Penh. A prostitute dressed for success in Phnom Penh. Internally Displaced People -IDPs - and an amputee begging in downtown Phnom Penh in 1993. The morning rush hour in Phnom Penh at its peak was very chaotic. The morning rush hour in Phnom Penh at its peak was very chaotic.   Vendors just north of the main business district in Phnom Pehn on Monivong Boulevard in 1992. Clearing land mines.Amputees at Kien Khleang rehabilitation center

Just outside of Phnom Penh is a “killing field,” Choeung Ek.

A memoSkulls inside the Choeung Ek memorial outside of Phnom Penh.rial to those who died at the Choeung Ek killing field outside of Phnom Penh. Skulls inside the Choeung Ek memorial outside of Phnom Penh. Skulls inside the Choeung Ek memorial outside of Phnom Penh.

I had only been in Cambodia a few weeks when I was sent around Cambodia to collect statistics related to the upcoming election. Among other places, I visited Seam Reap, Angkor Wat, and I was in the first helicopter to fly to the remote province of Preah Vihar.

In Siam Reap - a UN data collection team - Rajish-cartographer, Serguei-leader, Major Wu-Chinese rep, Fernando-cartographer, unknown, unknown, Major Lewis-British rep, Tom -computer man. The cartographers and statisticians on their way to collect data in distant provinces. A UN data collection team boarding the first UN helicopter to Preah Vihear. Anchor Wat from the air -- taken by the author on the way to Preah Vihear in 1992. Anchor Wat from the door of the first UN helicopter to Preah Vihar. Looking down at Anchor Wat a few minutes after the previous picture was taken. Everyone, including some people who had never seen a Westerner before, was curious to see the UN team as it arrived in Preah Vihear. Cambodian laborers drinking rice wine.

Cambodian Government, CPP, not United Nations, soldiers out on patrol.
After months in Cambodia I was granted leave in Thailand and for reasons that I can no longer remember, I found myself in Bangkok’s nightlife area.  Dancers in a Bangkok nightclub similar to the one described in the text.

Most of the remainder of my time in Cambodia was spent working for the “Electoral Component” and much of that time was spent in the Computer Center and Electoral Headquarters.

An official UNTAC voter registration card. Electoral Headquarters and the Computer Center in Phnom Penh shortly before the 1993 UNTAC-administered election. Entering voter registration information in the UNTAC Computer Center - Tom Riddle sihe desk against the front wall.

One of my assignments was to design the ballot for the election.
It sounds kind of boring but during that time bullets were flying, some of which hit and killed the four Electoral Component colleagues I dedicated the book to, and I was having what I thought was the romance of a lifetime. So it was the opposite of boring, sometimes, way too much the opposite of boring.

   The all-important ballot for Cambodia's 1993 election translated into English to help in the vote counting.The all-important ballot for Cambodia's 1993 election translated into English to help in the vote counting.

The official ballot for Cambodia's 1993 -- eight million of which were printed by Elections Canada and shipped back to Cambodia for the election.

As election time grew closer terror incidents, gun battles, and massacres were happening every day.

A terrorist attack in Phnom Penh before the election left a Vietnamese man wounded.

The last few pictures are from the jubilant election day and the counting of ballots. The final picture was taken as the computer center was closing and the staff posed with the international staff for a final picture.
For the details of life in Cambodia as the civil war was ending, the election, the fighting, the nightlife, the romance, and everything else, you will have to read the book which is available from and .

Enthusiastic voters on early on the first day of the 1993 election. A United Nations Civilian Policeman - CIVPOL- calms enthusiastic on the first day of the Cambodian election. Counting ballots in Phnom Penh after the election - Tom Riddle is on the right.
Cambodia and the Year of UNTAC by Tom Riddle