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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - New villages are "best- worst" refugee option

New villages are "best- worst" refugee option

SISOPHON - Resettlement for good in an entirely new village is becoming the fate of an increasing number of IDPs in Banteay Meanchey. Local authorities now consider it the "best worst solution": the best they can make of a bad situation.

As return to their devastated villages or an improvement in squalid camp conditions both look impossible, new villages in safer locations are being envisaged.

These villages will be close to communication lines and big towns where the security situation is less volatile.

Such new villages will free precious space in the overcrowded old camps and authorities are hoping they will then have the infrastructure to deal with the influx of new refugees expected during the dry season.

Only volunteers will go to the new villages, because several people still hope to go back to the place they were born in. But for many others, it is often the last hope of creating again social ties with a new community.

This is, for example, the case of Sra Prang, 42, mother of four children. After arriving in the Site 2 border camp in 1982, she lost her husband in 1991 and was able to go back to her village in Banteay Meanchey only in February last year. Fifteen months later she had to move again to Wat Keo camp in Mongkol Borei because of KR attacks. "Where will we go next?" she asked the Post in despair.

One new village has already been settled in Thmar Dekest, north of Sisophon. There, 682 volunteer families (2785 people) from the camp of Kang Var in Sisophon, have been given a patch of land, a house and big jars for water.

They have no rice fields but they can grow vegetables. These new villagers are still considered IDPs by humanitarian agencies but receive food in a different way.

Sa Roeung, private secretary of Doung Khem, the governor of Banteay Meanchey, explained that these villagers were given 200 kg of rice by WFP for every hectare of land they prepare for cultivation.

CMAC, which has worked in Battambang and Banteay Meanchey since 1993, plays a major role in these new projects by clearing land so it can be settled on. Despite security problems, CMAC deminers have so far escaped injury. They are nearly ready to hand over another area of land for a new village at Phnom Thom 10 km from Sisophon.

Lao Mong Hai, vice-president of CMAC, said: "By doing this, CMAC is actually violating one of its principles: not to intervene in areas where there is fighting."

The few areas which are free of fighting have been heavily mined for almost 20 years. So far, 342 CMAC deminers - 10 platoons - have cleared about 13 hectares of land since August. They found 254 mines and 140 rounds of unexploded ordnance.

Niem Chouleng, head of CMAC in Battambang told the Post: "In some places, we find one mine every ten meters. So it takes times to rehabilitate the land, one platoon can clear 0.5 hectare each week."

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