THE repatriation of Cambodian refugees in Thailand started up again this week despite
new fighting in Banteay Meanchey province, through which the refugees are transported.
A total of 298 refugees from the Kap Choeung camp in Surin, Thailand returned to
Cambodia Nov 18, according to Giuseppe de Vincentis, the head of the liaison office
of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).
The refugees were to remain in Banteay Meanchey's provincial capital for two days
before being taken to Siem Reap province, he said.
The repatriation came just days after fighting erupted in the Banteay Meanchey village
of O'Baichoan, pushing hundreds of residents toward the border, according to an official
at an international organization in Sisophon.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Nov 17 that continued fighting
in the province could paralyze repatriation efforts.
De Vincentis said that the newest batch of refugees were brought back only after
the UNHCR received assurances about the security situation from Cambodian and Thai
More than 3,000 refugees - or about 5% of the estimated 60,000 refugees in Thailand
- have returned to Cambodia in recent weeks, de Vincentis said.
"We are repatriating people on two conditions: One, that it is voluntary and
two, that they are repatriated to areas considered to be safe," he said.
UNHCR officials said that about 50 people at the Kap Choeung camp are signing up
each day and that another 1,600 more refugees will return as soon as logistics allow,
Tom Petocz, a field officer for the UNHCR, said a group of 478 refugees were earlier
taken to Siem Reap town from Sisophon on Nov 4.
Among them was a 23-year-old fish vendor who worked in O'Smach for about two years
before fleeing to the Kap Choeung camp in August. Speaking on condition that he not
be named, he said that boredom, a lack of work prospects and longing for his family
convinced him to return to Siem Reap.
As a Siem Reap resident who moved to O'Smach to do business before fleeing to Thailand,
UNHCR officials said that he is representative of many of the refugees in Kap Choeung
"A lot of the initial people were doing business in the [O'Smach] area and were
cut off. Now they are coming back to the areas where they were before they moved
there," Petocz said.
The fish vendor said he fled the fighting in O'Smach days before government forces
attacked resistance forces in the area.
"Hun Sen sent missiles to O'Smach, so we had to leave," he said in a Nov
9 interview at his family's home, 15km northwest of Siem Reap town.
Conditions in the camp are "not bad", he said, but "there is nothing
to do. The boys and girls had no school. There was no work. It was boring and I missed
Asked if he would remain in Siem Reap province, he said he doubted there was work
for him as the economy is so bad. "If I can find work, I will stay. If not,
maybe I will go to Poipet."
Sipping tea in the shade of his family's home, he fondly remembered his life in O'Smach
before the town was leveled by artillery and rockets.
"The people who lived in O'Smach lost jobs, money, their homes. People were
very angry," he added.