PHNOM PENH, Cambodia -- One of the six United Nations peacekeepers held for three days by the Khmer Rouge in central Cambodia returned to his base Sunday saying the U.N. operation had been carried out correctly and that his group was right to enter guerilla-held area.
'In terms of the operation itself and how it was carried out from beginning to end, there was not a problem and it was not incorrectly done,' said Lt. Scott Verney of the British Royal Navy.
'Our job is to sight, liaise and observe the faction activities, so we have to go to every area and we have to show our neutrality in observing what is going on,' Verney said.
'It would not have been fair to stop at the last government postion. We had to see what both sides of the fence were doing so we proceded further down the river,' said Verney.
After several hot showers, a few beers and two nights in a luxury hotel, the 26-year-old naval officer returned Sunday to Kompong Chhnang, 58 miles north of Phnom Penh, to collect his belongings before returning to Britain next week, ending his six month mission in Cambodia.
The six released hostages -- three from Britain, two Filipinos and one New Zealander -- spent the weekend undergoing medical examinations and intensive debriefing sessions in Phnom Penh.
The six helped U.N. intelligence officers analyze the kidnapping episode and assess the relationship between the United Nations and the guerilla group, which is still refusing to join the peace-keeping operation.
The U.N. military commander, Australian Lt. Gen. John Sanderson, believes the incident strengthened relations, as the Khmer Rouge leadership in Phnom Penh helped the U.N. secure the release of the hostages.
'It demonstrates we can work together to solve problems. We must work together to maintain the impetus,' Sanderson told UPI Sunday.
The six military observers were released Friday after being held for 72 hours by a group of Khmer Rouge soldiers in the central province of Kompong Thom, 93 miles northwest of Phnom Penh.
They spent three days in close proximity to the guerillas, who were working under orders from senior commanders -- giving the U.N. soldiers an opportunity to observe at close quarters the workings of their captors.
Asked at a press conference what they seen of their captor's mode of operation and strategy, the team leader, Lt. Col. Mark Walton of Britain, refused to comment.
However, the topic was part of discussions during the two days of debriefing with U.N. officials in Phnom Penh, the military spokesman said Sunday.
'Their experiences during those three days will be invaluable to the U.N. military. They have been able to tell us about the (Khmer Rouge) checkpoints and the daily routine and how they operated in that area,' the spokesman said.
Western observers noted the hostage incident raised several questions.
'Why did the U.N. observers go into this area knowing the Khmer Rouge bans access to their zones?' asked one diplomat.
'Did they go there deliberately to test the Khmer Rouge's reaction -- perhaps knowing they would get arrested?' he asked.
The other unanswered question was whether the kidnapping was part of Khmer Rouge strategy or a sponteneous decision taken by the local commander when the observers entered the area controlled by the guerillas.
The Khmer Rouge claimed the U.N. observers were spying for the government, which the guerilla group believes is still supported by the Vietnamese, although Hanoi and Phnom Penh have said repeatedly that all Vietnamese troops withdrew from Cambodia in September 1989.
The peacekeepers were 'arrested because they were spying, taking photos and checking the coordinates on the map in order to help the Vietnamese and Phnom Penh forces,' said a Khmer Rouge statement issued in Phnom Penh during the hostage incident.
According to the statement, Khmer Rouge policy is not to detain U.N. personnel. The U.N. force calls it a local issue.
'The decision to take them was the decision of the local commander, not a higher command. He was in contact with local commander only after he had taken them,' said the military spokesman.
'He did it independently, then a higher authority convinced him to release them. The reason was to use them as a bargaining tool to push back (government forces),' the U.N. official said.
But analysts here are not convinced. Many think the Khmer Rouge leadership was warning the U.N. force not to go too far, and reminding the international community they are still a force to be reckoned with.
'We have to inform the international community that U.N. personnel penetrate into (Khmer Rouge) zones for intelligence purposes because (the U.N.) is actually cooperating with Vietnam and the puppet regime,' said a Khmer Rouge statement dated Dec. 3.