AUN (not her real name) had last seen her son Meth the night in 1975 that he left
their Kampot home to join the Khmer Rouge. Hoping against hope, in 1995 she approached
the Red Cross for help in finding her long-lost son.
Earlier this month, Meth was successfully located after almost twenty-five years
through the efforts of the Cambodian Red Cross Tracing Agency.
Since 1989, the Cambodian Red Cross with the active support of the International
Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has successfully traced 20,767 Cambodians separated
from their families by decades of conflict, with 7,970 people still on the missing
The Red Cross tracing service is available to any Cambodian seeking a missing family
member. By filling out a one-page tracing request, a nationwide network of 21 Red
Cross "tracing agents" is utilized in an attempt to locate the missing
"In Cambodia a functioning postal service really doesn't exist and cross-country
travel is still prohibitively expensive for many people [so] that's why this [tracing]
service still exists," explained Aleksandra Matijevic, Dissemination Delegate
at the Phnom Penh office of the ICRC.
"Red Cross tracing agents can travel, which is something that many people searching
for their relatives simply can't do," she notes.
Tracing agents in the area where the individual was last reportedly seen travel the
area and call on government and informal contacts for information regarding the individual's
possible fate or whereabouts. Once traced, former missing individuals are asked to
fill out an official Red Cross message form to be forwarded to anxious relatives.
1999 marked the first year the tracing service encompassed the entirety of Cambodia
following the opening of the Samlot and Malai areas.
However, Matijevic stressed that the work of tracing agents can often be dangerous.
"In January 1997 one of our tracing agents was killed by bandits in Banteay
Meanchay," Matijevic explained. "Now we've instituted a policy of agents
having an 'accompanying assistant' in areas in which safety is an issue."
According to Matijevic, the nature of the Red Cross's missing person tracing service
has evolved as Cambodia's political system has stabilized.
"Between 1979-1992 most tracing requests were filled in at the Thai border,
and the ICRC was able to successfully fulfill 18,000 out of the 20,000 tracing requests
received in that time," explained Matijevic. "Tracing was easier at that
time because it was not too long after [the KR regime]."
From 1992-1995 the focus of tracing services was on overseas Cambodians who had emigrated
following the KR takeover.
And while the number of tracing requests have decreased in the past four years, Matijevic
notes that between Jan-Nov 1999, 111 new tracing requests were filed in Cambodia
involving 260 people. To date, 31 of those cases, a total of 88 people, have been
"Just this week we received a report from Svay Rieng province of six people
who'd been missing since the seventies," Matijevic said. "One of those
people had first gone missing in 1973."
Although the ICRC is on a downsizing trend that will eventually culminate in the
closure of it's Cambodian operations, Matijevic is quick to point out that the Cambodian
Red Cross will continue its missing person tracing service long after the ICRC departs.
"Finding missing people in Cambodia is an ongoing process that won't end until
the people are found," Matijevic explained. "There are still trace service
operations underway in Europe for people who went missing in the Second World War."