Observers on site in the aftermath of a Kratie province military operation last week that lead to the shooting death of a 14-year-old girl noticed something odd about the attire of some soldiers.
It was their helmets. Crude replicas of what appeared to be American flags were stuck between the green and tan camouflage, like an out-of-place piece of a puzzle.
A uniform worn by one of the soldiers is from the US, an Embassy spokesman confirmed yesterday. But the helmets accompanied by the design are not official.
“That’s not us,” said Sean McIntosh, public affairs officer with the embassy in Phnom Penh. “When the US military makes uniform donations, no US insignia is left on the articles.”
That’s not us, either, was the response from the Cambodian government, deepening the mystery of where the elusive headgear originated.
General Neang Phat, Secretary of State of Cambodia’s Ministry of National Defence, had an answer.
“It is their own helmet that they bought by themselves,” he said, without explaining why soldiers would be buying their own helmets.
Uniforms purchased through US grant money and transported to Cambodia are worn by various contingents of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, according to McIntosh.
But he said some US and RCAF soldiers also traded gear during joint operations.
Asked if he was concerned that stars and stripes on the helmets of Cambodian soldiers could send a distressing message to villagers, McIntosh referred to a statement issued last week.
“We do not condone violence on the part of any party to settle these issues,” he said.