Thursday, May 27, 2004

NEW YORK — A book by three current and former U.N. employees about peacekeeping operations portrays wild parties with alcohol and drugs, and convicts and mental-asylum inmates passing as soldiers.

Embarrassed U.N. officials have threatened firing or other disciplinary action against two of the authors, Heidi Postlewait and Andrew Thomson. U.N. rules bar employees from writing about their work without approval, which had been denied in this case.

The third author, former U.N. employee Kenneth Cain, works full time as a writer.

The book, “Emergency Sex and Other Desperate Matters,” covers the authors’ experiences during the mid-1990s in Cambodia, Somalia and Haiti and paints unflattering pictures of the operations and the peacekeepers. It is due out on June 1.

The U.N. peacekeepers sent to Cambodia in 1993 to restore normalcy and supervise open elections, resembled “the international jet set on vacation,” writes Mr. Cain, a Harvard law-school graduate.

The writers describe sex parties in “a villa” in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, that was “well-known for its Friday night parties,” where alcohol and drugs were commonly used.

A favorite drink among the U.N. personnel at the parties was the “Space Shuttle.” It was made “by distilling a pound of marijuana over a six-week period with increasingly good quality spirits. It is a work of love, and the final product is an amber-colored liquid that tastes like cognac. We drink it with rounds of Coke.”

In another section, the authors say the “peacekeeping troops” sent to Cambodia by Bulgaria were not really soldiers.

They write that the Bulgarian government, starved for hard currency, actually cut a deal with inmates, offering them pardons if they accepted the U.N. assignment. Bulgaria, in turn, received financial compensation from the United Nations for its troops.

“The Bulgarians wanted the money, but didn’t want to send their best-trained troops. So … they offered inmates in the prisons and psychiatric wards a deal: Put on a uniform and go to Cambodia for six months, you’re free on return,” the book says.

Scores of criminals accepted the offer, were given uniforms and became U.N. peacekeepers, the authors say.

Mr. Cain describes the Bulgarians as “a battalion of criminal lunatics [who] arrive in a lawless land. They’re drunk as sailors, rape vulnerable Cambodian women and crash their U.N. Land Cruisers with remarkable frequency.”

The Bulgarian Embassy yesterday denied all accusations of wrongdoing in connection with its dispatch of peacekeepers to Cambodia.

“It is totally untrue that the mission was made up of prisoners. Its members were reservists, and they were led by military commanders. Our regular army units were forbidden by law from undertaking foreign assignments at that time,” Ambassador Elena Poptodorova said.

On the charge that Bulgaria undertook the job because it needed hard currency, she said, “U.N. compensation for our expenses came much later.”

She acknowledged that there were incidents involving the peacekeepers, but maintained that they were “the exception rather than the rule.”

Without going into the merits of the accusations in the book, U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard conceded that the United Nations does not have a system to “verify” the credentials of troops offered for peacekeeping.

“When it comes to formed military units, we rely on the donor country to give us professional soldiers. … There is not a quality-control test, and units vary in the degree of their training from country to country, even from unit to unit,” he said.

Dr. Thomson, a U.N. physician, says in the book that he was sent to Haiti in mid-1993 to investigate human rights violations by the junta of Gen. Raoul Cedras.

In the country just a month, Dr. Thomson complained: “I’m already enraged, not by the work, but being unable to work. My patients are all either headless and rotting or alive and rotting, out of reach behind prison walls.”

As conditions worsened, the United Nations decided on a pullout and sent Dr. Thomson to the nearby Dominican Republic.

“The U.N. yanked us out against our will into this catatonic tropical suburbia, this retirement home for failed humanitarians, leaving us sidelined with no way back in,” he wrote.

Mr. Eckhard said a decision on whether to discipline the authors is “a political decision, but the authors have violated staff rules.”

But he acknowledged that the world organization has no legal recourse to stop the publication of the book. A spokesman for the publisher, Miramax Books, said the company is not bound by obligations between the United Nations and the authors.

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