KOMPONG CHHNANG , Cambodia -- The six U.N. peacekeepers held hostage by Khmer Rouge guerrillas in Cambodia have returned to their bases and resumed work, but some unpleasant memories of their 72-hour ordeal remain.
The hostages -- three Britons, two Filipinos and a New Zealander -- were held for three days by a group of guerrillas from Cambodia's radical Khmer Rouge faction at a river base in the central province of Kompong Thom, about 90 miles northeast of Phnom Penh.
'Knowing they are going to point guns at you and fire -- whether or not they are actually aiming to hit or warn you off -- that was about the scariest part,' said Chief Petty Officer John Oxehnam of the Royal New Zealand Navy.
Captured along with Oxenham were British Army Lt. Col. Mark Walton and Capt. Richard Williams, Royal Navy Lt. Scott Verney and Filipino Chief Petty Officers Jose Almirante and Blandino Mones.
The six had been on patrol on the Sen River from Kompong Thom when they were detained by a local Khmer Rouge commander, who demanded that Phnom Penh government troops withdraw from his area.
A trip up the Sen River from the southern end this week found government forces working their way up the river into Khmer Rouge- controlled areas.
A government naval unit, aided by gunboats and landing craft, captured one Khmer Rouge village and forced the Khmer Rouge to abandon a second post.
About 3 miles up the river from these two villages is the Khmer Rouge post where the hostages were held. It is an isolated area with thick jungle to the river's edge.
Malaria-carrying mosquitoes abound, there are no means of communication, and the only way out is via the river or through mine fields. The village consists of a collection of tiny bamboo huts with roofs of woven palm leaves, one of which was allocated to the hostages for their three nights in captivity.
The six are all military observers and had considerable experience in the field, although they found it impossible to sleep on the bamboo-slat floor at night, despite the use of mosquito nets.
'The mosquitoes came up through the slats and got trapped in our nets, so after an hour or so I looked up and the whole net was full of mosquitoes buzzing around,' said the New Zealander Oxenham.
Oxenham's delight at being released Dec. 4 was evident at one of the cafes in Kompong Chhnang where scrawled across the center of the curtain were the words 'Free at last. Oxy.'
The cheerful New Zealander said the worst part of the three-day ordeal was when the six hostages attempted to leave the site and their captors threatened to shoot them.
Scott Verney, who initiated the river patrol, also recalled the incident, which happened just after dawn on the second morning when the six began preparing to leave the Khmer Rouge site.
'We decided it was time to test the water and see if we were still under arrest. So we got in the boats in broad daylight, very slowly, not rushing, and tried to leave.
'A couple of warning shots were fired and we then realized we were not going anywhere fast,' Verney said after returning to his base in Kompong Chhnang, about 90 miles north of Phnom Penh.
'Their mood changed at this point and they were not quite as friendly, and they started walking around with weapons, but after we had taken our shirts off and sat in the shade, they put their weapons down,' said Verney.
Verney and the others said that at no time did the Khmer Rouge soldiers mistreat them, and their captors provided ample food and water.
'The standard of cuisine might not have been five-star but it was certainly adequate,' said team leader Mark Walton.
'They treated us well,' said Verney. 'They were always reasonably friendly, provided we were doing what they told us to do and we not trying to leave.
'We had a good working relation with them. We didn't have any cigarettes so every time a soldier walked past we would touch his top pocket to see if he had any cigarettes and sure enough he would pull a packet out and give us some cigarettes.'
Verney said the Khmer Rouge commander, who called himself Gen. Chan, was always polite during negotiations with the six military observers and the 12 Indonesian soldiers who came to negotiate their release.
'He was very cool, calm, collected. He was always smiling. He used to sit on the bamboo bed, cross his legs and speak in a low voice. Only on one occasion he looked slightly angry.
'It was about 10 minutes before we were released. It was nothing serious, he just stopped smiling for two or three minutes, then returned to his usual self, but after three days of him continuously smiling you notice that sort of thing,' said Verney.