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Sunday, July 12, 1992 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Sihanouk's Strongarm Bodyguards From N. Korea Bully Peace In Cambodia

Deutsche Presse Agentur

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia - The Cambodian peace pact has seen the arrival of many unsavory characters but one group in particular has struck fear and contempt in most who come in contact with them.

Unsmiling, surly and aggressive, these trained killers show true dedication to their business.

It might sound like the Khmer Rouge but they come from North Korea and form the bodyguard corps of Cambodia's mercurial Prince Norodom Sihanouk.

Madame Kek Sysoda, protocol chief for the former Cambodian monarch, said more than 20 of the Pyongyang mercenaries protect the prince and added that they were all senior North Korean military men.

They're a gift from one of Sihanouk's oldest overseas friends - North Korean President Kim Il-Sung, who has ruled his country with an iron fist since the 1950-53 Korean War.

Sihanouk heads a reconciliation council grouping Cambodia's four rival factions.

Journalists were swift to taste the wrath and heavy-handed tactics of the Koreans soon after Sihanouk returned here on Nov. 14 after almost 13 years in exile, many of them in the palace Kim built for him in Pyongyang, North Korea.

Uniformly clad in steel-gray polyester safari suits with wires hanging out of their ears, the Koreans were liberal with the use of the elbows and knees in pushing back overeager photographers.

Ever-present at Sihanouk's public outings is one guard carrying a patent-leather case whose bulges clearly point to its contents - an enormous saber.

The Koreans treat everyone with equal contempt - journalists, local security men, U.N. peacekeepers, the Cambodian public and even the prince.

At a New Zealand army demonstration of mine-clearance techniques earlier this year, Sihanouk bumped into an old friend from the Australian media. As they started chatting amiably, one of the prince's minders unceremoniously started to drag the television journalist away.

When Sihanouk, still regarded as a god-king by many Cambodians, started to protest, another of his protectors pulled him away to his waiting limousine - all under the gaze of Australian TV cameras.

"They're animals. . . . They deliberately step on my toes when they see me," said one resident journalist. "They can only speak two words of English: `Speak no, no speak."'

The Koreans even used their strongarm tactics on the bodyguards of Yasushi Akashi of Japan, head of the massive U.N. peace-keeping operation here.

When Akashi arrived at the Khemarin Palace shortly after taking up his post on March 15, the Koreans barred entry to one of his burly American security men.

"We'll work it out so that there's no fighting. It would be very messy," the American bodyguard said later, adding, "This is their playground. When it's my playground (U.N. headquarters), I'll be calling the shots."

Copyright (c) 1992 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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