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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - To go back or not? KR refugees mull Anlong Veng

To go back or not? KR refugees mull Anlong Veng

THE last Cambodian refugees - mainly former Khmer Rouge soldiers and their families

from Anlong Veng - have left Thai-land's Phu Noi camp. While camp leaders reportedly

pressured returnees to go back to Anlong Veng, many resisted and now are setting

about new lives free of the Khmer Rouge.

"I will not go back to Anlong Veng again, because Anlong Veng is the fighting

place ... and there is not enough food and they are very tricky. We cannot have a

business, and there is no freedom of walking and speaking," said Dok Sitha,

28, who arrived in Phnom Penh in the first repatriation on Jan 16.

She was shaking with hunger as she held her baby waiting for her dinner rations,

but was determined to finish the rest of her long trip back to her birthplace of

Mondulkiri. "I will not go back to Anlong Veng even if I have no rice to eat.

I will struggle to live there [Mondulkiri] and I will find yams or manioc tubers

instead of rice," she said.

Another returnee was relieved not to find himself abandoned by the UN office of the

High Commissioner for Refugees, which coordinated the return.

"Before I left the camp, [camp leaders] said that [UNHCR] would throw us out

in Poipet and not take us to Mondulkiri, but when I arrive here I am so happy and

I hope that I will be taken to Mondulkiri," said Thom Sophath, 32.

He claimed that a UNHCR worker countered the KR line by telling him in his own Lao

language: "If you are going back home, you will live, and if you stay in Anlong

Veng you will die."

He said the camp divided into two groups, those who planned to return to Anlong Veng

and those who were going to strike out on their own for their birthplaces, which

many had not seen since the KR retreat in 1979. The leaders treated those coming

to Anlong Veng better than the rest, he said.

Total returnees to Anlong Veng are now up to about 14,000, according to Cambodian

Red Cross official Dr Uy Sam Ath. According to a UNHCR press release, about 4000

have signed statements that they returned voluntarily.

The Phu Noi repatriation effort began Jan 12 and finished Feb 2, with a total of

seven movements totaling 4096 people, according to the UNHCR. Refugees were transported

to Anlong Veng or the destination of their choice by the Cambodian Red Cross.

Many, asking to return to Rattanakiri or Mondulkiri, were surprised to find they

had a Phnom Penh stopover.

Prak Yon, an ethnic Phnong and former Khmer Rouge soldier, said that he used to come

to Phnom Penh during the Pol Pot regime with the governor of Mondulkiri province.

"I saw a big difference from when I came the first time," he said.

Phon Ngorn, 38, said: "I heard a lot of people say that Phnom Penh is a nice,

beautiful and happy place, but I had no ideas about it because that night I could

not see anything well as I was traveling in a covered truck."

He said he asked to return to his native village in Mondulkiri because he missed

his village and relatives very much. Last year, while he was in Anlong Veng, he received

information from his relatives saying that his mother wanted to see him and wanted

him to return back, but he said he was afraid to return because his leader told him

that he would have his throat cut if he dared to return "because there are many

Yuon [Vietnamese] in Phnom Penh and in Mondulkiri".

He added that his living in Phu Noi camp was better than in Anlong Veng as he was

given enough rice to eat.

But Medecins Sans Frontiers medical assistant Toun Theavy said that many returnees

suffered from malnutrition, requiring care at Sisophon's refugee reception center

before they could embark on the daylong truck journey to Phnom Penh.

The returnees will receive a housing kit and 40 days' worth of food when they reach

their destination. Most plan to take up farming upon their return.

Phon Ngorn said he was not worried about getting farmland, because his relatives

told him that if he returned, they would have some spare land for him. He said he

would like to ask the UN to help him with cows or water buffaloes so that he will

be able to do farming.

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