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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Fighting Spawns New Wave of Refugees

Fighting Spawns New Wave of Refugees

SISOPHON - Two weeks after the Cambodian Armed Forces attacked Khmer Rouge villages

in northwestern Banteay Meanchey approximately 2,200 displaced people remain in a

schoolhouse at Banteay Chhmar and the former UNHCR Repatriation Centre in Sisophon.

"We are now in the same position as two years ago, the same as we were in the

camps in Thailand," said Meung Sum, a 37-year-old farmer from Churp Kroki who

left behind his ducks and pigs, his wealth, when he was moved to Banteay Chhmar by

the CAF.

Many villagers could not carry all their belongings and were forced to abandon animals

and possession in their villages. Villagers also complained of looting by CAF troops,

or the 'three-faction or the Para soldiers' as they called them . They seemed to

have little knowledge of the new unified army-which marched them at gun point from

their homes so they clean up the area of Khmer Rouge.

"They told us to leave the village without taking anything, no ox-carts, no

cows, no buffaloes. They threatened some villagers at gun point, yanked the necklaces

from their necks Some villagers did manage to pack up, some didn't," said Ean

Eng, 35, from Ampil.

"It hurts. We struggled to save money in order to buy cattle for farming. When

everything is gone, we don't know what to hope for," he complained from his

shack at the Sisophon Reception Center.

Lat Heap, 35, who returned from Site-8 to settle in Phum Anlong Trach, was visibly

angry with the government soldiers who raided his house and pulled it down.

"I am very sorry for my property because I had just moved in, but they destroyed

everything. I was also angry, but there was nothing I could do because they had guns,"

he moaned.

He said that two years ago Khmer Rouge delivered arms to the villagers to protect

their village. One day before the attack to be made, "the three-faction soldiers"

sent a message, saying that the village was going to be disarmed and no gunshot would

be heard, otherwise all the villagers would be killed.

"I saw with my eyes the Para soldiers beating a villager," Khuy Rak burst

out. "It was like it wasn't a big deal at all. He was driving his ox-cart to

the main road when the oxen panicked, blocking the way of the truck convoy. One soldier

got down and beat him with a bamboo stick."

The reception center closed its doors when refugees from the border camps were repatriated

before the election. Aid workers had no other choice, but to launch a new program

after CAF (Cambodian Armed Forces) forcibly moved the refugees in, without authorization

from UNHCR.

"We have to open it again and to continue to help them until they are relocated,"

said Hou Chhun Eng, a coordinating distributor of food at the center.

He said the program was designed for only a period of 20 days during which each individual

can receiving allowance of 10 kg of rice, half a kilo of oil and 200 grams of salt.

No cash, no land option is suggested.

However, many refugees complained they had to receive any relief supplies.

"We were told by the soldiers that rice will be given, but so far we've got

nothing. Since I arrived I borrowed from my neighbors about ten kilos of rice in

order to feed my kids," said 33 year-old Gnem Im whose left leg is paralyzed.

He looks older than his age and is physically weak. Contemplating for a while, he

pulled out tobacco from his pocket, wrapped it in a piece of paper, lit it and took

a puff.

"We are hanging in the balance. Life was better at home, but we still don't

know if we have to go forward or backward because our cattle, land and house are

gone," he said.

A survey taken by UNTAC staff showed that most of the refugees would like to return

to other parts of Cambodia where they had relatives and friends but could not afford

to do so.

"I would go to Battambang but I have no money," said Pha Pres, a 68-year

-old-farmer from Battambang province, who has lived in nearby Mae Bon for three years.

The CAF has defended moving the villagers as a necessary tactic in their offensive

against the Khmer Rouge.

"After the attacks the soldiers found them hiding in the jungle and took them

to Banteay Chhmar, Gen. Prum Maranak, CAF commander in Sisophon, said. "We brought

them in so the Khmer Rouge would have no organization to help them."

Sous Kakan, a farmer from Sitserei, who said he had never been a Khmer Rouge soldier

and had no political links, disputed the CAF version of events in Sitserei. According

to Sous Kakan the CAF arrived at six in the morning , forced the men in to line for

a body search for weapons , and left the women to pack belongings within one hour.

Sitserei villagers were then loaded into trucks and sent to Banteay Chhmar and the

next day to Sisophon, said Sous Kakan.

Once the CAF had trucked the villagers to the two sites, CAF requested that the provincial

governor's office assume responsibility for the refugees. The governor's office then

asked the Cambodian Red Cross to oversee the needs of villagers. In turn , the Cambodian

Red Cross has requested help from the international community.

"I hope the World Food Program and other organizations will help the people

since they are now having difficulty with food," Gen. Prum Manarak said.

A joint Concern/ ICRC effort provided sanitation in the reception centre and MSF

has provided medical assistance but all the international non-governmental agencies

contacted indicated they had no wish to assume overall responsibility for the displaced

villagers.

"It's a bit of a hot potato," said an NGO worker." If we provide too

much assistance we could be creating a situation in which removing people from their

villages will be considered acceptable if CAF know that the NGOs will take care of

them."

Gen. Prum Maranak said the CAF would not stop villagers returning to the villages

from which they had been removed.

"If someone wants to go back to the same place to plant rice he can go, no problem,"

the general said. "Some people do not have the knowledge to live a big town

like Sisophon. They only know how to cut wood, raise animals, plant rice. They can

choose."

However, local CAF commanders near Krabas and Phum Chat, two of the villages emptied

in the August offensive said both Krabas and Phum Chat had been mined and were dangerous

to return to.

UNTAC said aid workers in the northwest of the country also expressed concern that

future CAF attacks against Khmer Rouge enclaves could result in far more displaced

villagers.

"We will keep quiet until after the constitution has been accepted and after

talks with the Khmer Rouge," Gen. Prum Maranak said.

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