|The Mekong Mission and fiasco.|
|Being a Pirate is not always like the Pirates of the Carribean, sometimes it can be boring and is normally months and at times a years between serious missions. So like others I take on small investigation jobs involving checking out if something is in a certain place or not. This kind of work is usually for other Brethren missions or for those who require certain gaurantees and it pays the bills.
So one day and being in Bangkok I was asked to go and see if something was present near the Cambodian - Vietnam border on the Mekong river.
With my engineer Colin Hart from Watford we arrived at Phomn Penn on a Thai Airlines flight at around 2pm.
We checked in at the Renaske Hotel and at 2.40pm I was in the bathroom of my room when all hell let lose outside. I forced out the last of the pee and ran outside to see what was happening. I was met by Colin and just in time to see the big gates in front of the Hotel slowly closing desperately being pushed to close by the Hotel employees.
We went to the gate and looked out, things now seemed a little calmer but there was a lot of smoke and a lot of shouting, I stepped out onto the pavement, the dozen or so Cambodians at the gate desperately calling me back. I stepped out a bit further to the middle of the very wide pavement, (sidewalk), to my left I saw a battle line of a mixture of Police and Army, a tank and gun jeeps all standing firm. To my right I saw the 'Revolutionary's' line standing also standing firm and made up of hundreds of shouting people wealding sticks, hammers and the like and amongst them many Buddust monks shouting and waving with a few burning tyres infront of their line, they too were standing firm.
The army were about 80 meters to my left, the Revolution about 120 meters to my right. Then I the saw the UN white vehicles, three in number, they were in the middle of this mess and slowly driving back a forrth between the two war lines. I stepped forward to the edge of the road. Looking left I caught the eye of the Army General. I looked right and could see that they coud see me. One of the UN vehicles stopped oppsite me on the other side of the wide road, he too looked at me as were all those behind me at the gate who kept calling me back to the gate.
I rolled a spliff, took out my lighter, looked again at them all and lit up my spliff.
The Army shouted and waved and moved forward 20 meters, the Revolution line retreated 20 meters and burned another tyre, the UN moved in a circle. I had smoked half my spliff.
Then other tyres rolled out from the Revolution lines and the Army moved back 20 meters and the Revolution moved forward 20 meters and things went on like this until I finished my spliff.
Then the UN vehicle positioned on the other side of the road did a U turn and stopped exactly next to me with its door window only inches from my face. I told the young guys inside to wind the window down, he did and then the young guy gave me a one finger sign just a foot from my nose. Diplomatic as I am in these circumstances and having my work boots on at the time, I kicked in the UN vehicles door. I them walked around to the back of the vehicle, pulled down the aerial mast and took away his UN flag the asked the UN guys what we should do next. They sped off, the Army retreated another 20meters and those at the hotel gate spilled out from the gate a few meters. Colin took pictures.
Nothing much happened until about 7pm when they all retreated and went home to eat and the war stopped until after lunch the next day and more or less those were the hours of war for the next few days.
Fortunately the River wall was in front of the park which itself is in front of the Royal Palace and almost attached to the hotel, so we had no problems getting our boatman organized and on the third day we were able to leave the ongoing war and took our speed boat down the River to complete our mission.
I dont wont to bore the reader with descriptions of the Mekong which can be found in travel guides but I would liike to stress that the river at times widens so much that the bottom flow changes rapidly and creates great waves. Because of this the semi flotsam rises and the surface becomes at times a tangle of dead trees and branches and a whole lot of other stuff and all moving dangerously at a constant 5 to 7 knots.
It only took a few hours and we were nearing the border, here the river widens and there are several river branches and several miles between each true river bank. I could easily see that what should be there was not there, si having my info I gave the order to turn about.
The boatman thought I wanted to see the border and didn't immediately turn pointing to the border and smiling. "Turn!" I shouted but it was too late, unable to turn due to avoiding a tree and other flotsum so by the time we were turned and facing upriver we had crossed the border and we were now some 400 meters down river and in Vietnam.
With the war going on in Phomn Penn there was no river traffic and the border guards were all asleep or lazing around and had not seen us slip by, but now they heard our full thrusting engines against the flow they woke up and saw us, and to them we were seen coming from Vietnam.
Suddenly they all woke up Vietnemese and Cambodians. The Vietnemese only fired twice as we regained the Cambodian Mekong but then the Cambodians opened fire.
We were out of serious range for the small fire and automatic weapons but then they quickly brought out a canon.
I'm not good with canons, so I don't know which war it came out of but it was old, very very old and painted cream for some reason I never came to understand. Anyway they fired the canon, I am sure they aimed ahead of us but they almost blew us out of the water and they were all totally shocked as much as we were. They readied another round, we really had no choice, I closed the bank to within hailing range and saw at least 30 small arms pointing at us and now in range. I pulled over and tied up at their small bamboo dock and much to the dismay of the nearby Vietnamese who were also pointing everything they had at us.
We were taken up the riverbank and led to a clearing in the jungle of about 800 square meters, our two boatmen were taken somewhere else. We were told to sit on two chairs in the middle of the clearing and we were tied to the chairs.
For the first time in my life I bowed to Hollywood, the clearing, the river, the hats of the vietnamese and the Cambodians, the huts, the chairs we sat on all seemed to be from the film 'Apocalypse Now'. Apart from one guy who was convinced we were James Bonds I managed to cool the Colonel, it took 5 and a half hours and more or less everything we had on us and we were escorted by river to the nearest village upstream.
Our mission had now changed and was to free the two boatmen and the boat.
When we got back to Phnom Penn the war was just finishing off for the day and we had to wait 20 minutes before entering the city. We first informed the families of the boatmen then returning to the hotel found that the UN had been to our rooms and taken away the cameras.
This simple few hour job was now becoming complicated.
The only safe house and untouchable place in the city was the FCCC (Foriegn Corrispondents Club of Cambodia). I went there, told them I was from Channel 5 Italian Television, they made me a member and we walked in.(by the way they do an incredibly good 'Elvis burger').
We managed to contact the right people and we got our men released but we lost the boat.
Anyway I made my call, got paid and we more or less broke even.
The next day was a Cambodian holiday and walking back to the hotel from the FCCC and another Elvis burger we found the grass square infront of the Royal Palace full of thousands of people all sitting peacefully and having a kind of picnic. We crossed the square diaganaly and slowly enjoying the atmosphere and the friendly people until when in the very middle of the suare we were finally tempted to stop and partake. We sat down with a family group and some pretty ladies who offered us small rice cakes. I was just about to eat my second rice cake when all of a sudden the thouseands of people suddenly stood up all together. The people quietly walked then ran off the square leaving Colin and me in the centre of the square slowly getting to our feet still half eating the lovely rice cakes. We turned to see the General, his army, his jeeps and then his tank rolled up. All this was pointing at us. I looked the General in the eye, his eye told me what I had to do and I did it, we silently walked off his grass square. When I reached the road I stopped and turned, rolled a spliff then nodded at the General, he nodded back.
We managed to leave soon after, our job done, nothing lost, nothing gained and nothing to stay for.
(What happened exactly at the FCCC is not for public domain as with other moments of the story due to privay regulations etc but will soon be released in the Peiran section.)
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