Cambodia to open school named after Polish soldiers

A school named after the Polish soldiers who participated in the 1992 UN peacekeeping mission is to be opened in Cambodia on Tuesday.

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The “Polish soldiers, veterans of the UN peacekeeping mission 1992-1993” ASEAN International English School is located in the village of Takeo outside the capital of Phnom Penh. It is now to have a new building that will be named after the Polish military mission to the country 25 years ago.

Michał Bolek, a teacher at the school, told the Wirtualna Polska website that “after being expelled from our previous location, we were forced to start the construction of a new building. That is when veterans of the Polish mission asked us about ways to help.”

Polish veterans approached the school principal with the idea of cooperating in the school’s construction. “He was very keen to cooperate with us and said that the school would be named after our contingent”, Piotr Oller, a veteran of the mission said. “The former building was too small, and the conditions were terrible.”

Soldiers started to collect funds for the school. “Even PLN 50 (EUR 12) makes a great difference. A school can be supplied with all the required books for as little as USD 100 (EUR 87)”, Mr Oller said. “Any help is welcomed there.”

The date of the opening is not coincidental. October 23 marks the official end of the Cambodian-Vietnamese war with the signing of the 1991 Paris Peace Accords. The agreement was followed by the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Cambodia. The objective was to stabilise the country during the transformation period from the Khmer Rouge regime and to protect the general population from the paramilitary factions raging throughout the country. The UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) functioned between 1992 and 1993.

The Polish military contingent took part in the UNTAC operation alongside 16,000 troops from 45 other countries. The mission was the first time the Polish Army engaged in a direct combat role since 1945. It cost the life of five Polish soldiers who were attacked by Khmer Rouge militants.

Mr Oller said that upon returning to Cambodia in 2011, he was met with a enthusiastic welcome. “People did not want us to pay for anything, there were a lot of manifestations of respect.”

“The UN presence in the 1990s was a landmark moment in Cambodia’s history”, Mr Bolek said.