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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Red Cross tracing service offers hope for the missing

Red Cross tracing service offers hope for the missing

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

lists.

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

individual.

"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

solved.

"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."

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