A S more Cambodians are reported to be crossing into Thailand from the fighting at
Samlot, humanitarian organizations are wrestling with what to do with some 21,000
refugees who earlier fled the disputed O'Smach area further north.
The first of those refugees - a group of about 1,800 who have agreed to leave the
Kap Choeng refugee camp in Thailand - are scheduled to return to Cambodia early next
The rest, however, are expected to remain on Thai soil for some time, with the nagging
question of what to do with people who do not wish to return because of fears of
being blown up or persecuted.
One of the immediate problems for aid agencies is a lack of information on the people.
The Thai government has counted 21,500 in Kap Cheong, across from O'Smach, and a
further 3,500 are reported to be in another camp in Trat province, but the United
Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) had not been allowed to conduct a complete
"UNHCR is not in a position to register them and does not know how many want
to return," said Peter Van der Vaart, chief of the UNHCR mission in Phnom Penh.
Initially, Thai authorities said that the Cambodians fleeing the fighting would have
to leave within a month, but that deadline has lapsed. A Thai proposal to establish
some kind of "safe havens" within Cambodia for the refugees has also been
"We have made representations to the Thai government saying that if the people
have a well-founded fear of persecution, don't send them back," said Van der
Vaart. "We are concentrating our efforts on volunteers and are mainly concerned
with those who think they are at risk."
The first group of volunteers from the Kap Choeng camp is expected to pass through
Boeng Trakun, about 40km north of the border point of Poipet, and spend the night
at the Kong Va resettlement camp just north of Sisophon. "We won't establish
a relief center. It will be designed for people to stay one night," said Van
der Vaart, adding that the refugees would be given food by the Cambodian Red Cross
and the World Food Program.
As for the remaining refugees, UN agencies are settling in for the long haul. The
UN Border Relief Organization (UNBRO)- which played a key role in helping refugees
in Thailand throughout the 1980s - is now back on the frontier.
"It still has a mandate," Van der Vaart said of UNBRO. "It is a dormant
fund that still has money for a rainy day. That rainy day has come."
UNHCR, which had been due to wind up its mission in Cambodia at the end of the year,
is itself making contingency plans to extend its term.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), meanwhile, is monitoring the
situation in case of any forced repatriations by Thailand or arrests of returnees
by Cambodian authorities.
ICRC dissemination delegate Eddy Abegg said the ICRC also wanted to ensure that no-one
was returned to areas where fresh landmines had been laid or where there was still
fighting going on.
• Because of a typographical error, the article 'Back to the past as refugees flee
to Thailand' in the last Phnom Penh Post identified the former Site 2 refugee camp
as having been in both Surin province and south of Surin. The camp referred to in
Surin was called Site B, not Site 2. Site 2, another camp, was in Thailand's Prachinburi