Three villagers tell how they hid in a trench with Cambodian soldiers while machine-gun fire and shells tore through the Preah Vihear market last Friday.
Cambodian soldiers walk through the site of a burned market in front of Preah Vihear temple on Saturday. Local residents fled the area when fighting broke out on Friday. Many have begun to return to the site to salvage whatever they can from the rubble.
THAI MINISTER'S COMMENTS ‘FEARFUL'
ACambodian government official described as “panicky” the Thai foreign minister’s warning that former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra was being allowed to launch political attacks from Cambodia. Koy Kuong, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told the Post Wednesday that Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya’s comment was made out of fear of Thaksin and were without foundation. “I wonder why [Kasit] says this again and again – we have already informed Thailand that Thaksin is not in Cambodia,” Koy Kuong said. Despite the outburst, Koy Kuong said relations between the two countries were good.
ON Monday, Siv Sophally came back to the remains of his house near the burned-out market at the base of Preah Vihear temple to see what was left. The market was rocketed by Thai forces during a firefight on Friday that left three Thai soldiers dead.
There wasn't much left. Among the burned remains he found a ruined generator, his son's bicycle and bottles of perfume. Everything had
turned to ashes, he said.
"Along with the burned generator and bottles of perfume, my other possessions such as clothes, tables, chairs, pots and dishes were in ashes," he said. "I came back to find what was left, but there isn't anything - just the well."
Siv Sophally, 38, was looking for his well to give water to the soldiers. The fact that it was underground meant it was safe, but he worried the piping was damaged. He estimates that the loss of his cafe, shop, souvenirs, perfume and stock has cost him USD$20,000.
"I have lost everything - all of my property. It was destroyed by the fire from the Thai rockets. This had value and it's now just ashes," he said. "I am finished. My mother has cried every day since."
He said that a number of villagers want to file a claim against the Thai army for compensation and will ask Prime Minister Hun Sen to intervene. He said 20 men who lost their properties now want to join the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) and go to the front line.
"We will be grateful if Prime Minister Hun Sen rebuilds our houses. Everything we have built up for 10 years is gone," he said.
Siv Sophally's wife, children, parents and relatives are staying temporarily in flats at Sa Em village, which lies 25 kilometres from Preah Vihear.
CRC donates food, utensils
Long Sovann, deputy governor of Preah Vihear, said the Cambodian Red Cross had donated supplies to each of the more than 500 families that were moved from the market area. Among the goods they received were 25 kilograms of rice, canned fish, utensils and pots.
He said 277 families had lived around the market, and 183 houses were destroyed.
WE ARE LOOKING FOR LAND FOR THEM TO BUILD THEIR HOUSES ON AT SA EM VILLAGE.
"We are looking for land for them to build their houses on at Sa Em village," Long Sovann said. "They can live in the new village and go to sell
their goods at the market once it is rebuilt."
‘I couldn't run anywhere'
During Friday's clash between Thai and Cambodian soldiers, three villagers who had decided to remain in the area were hiding in trenches with RCAF troops. Prak Sam El, Try Pisith and Yim Pov were caught in the fighting with just the clothes they were wearing.
Yim Pov said his wife and children had been evacuated before the fighting to Sa Em village. Other villagers were sent to Ko Muoy behind a hill near the temple. He had remained behind to keep an eye on his house.
All three men said they were unable to leave the scene and save their property because machine-gun fire was coming through the rain and hitting their homes and the temple.
"I was stuck at the front line," said Yim Pov, a pork vendor. "I hid in the trench near the market with Cambodian soldiers. It was like being in the army at the front line, but I had no gun to shoot with."
"I couldn't run anywhere because of the bullets and shells. I wasn't afraid of the shooting, but I was sorry to see our properties burned," he continued. "The soldiers told me not to move or I might get shot."
Fellow villager Try Pisith also lost everything. RCAF soldiers gave him clothes and rice to eat. While explaining that he has no spare clothes, an RCAF officer told him he can go to the army store and pick up some military fatigues.
The third man, Prak Sam El, sold groceries at the market and ran a cafe. His house, grocery store and cafe were destroyed. He calculated his losses at $3,000 but said it could have been worse: Soldiers had helped him to save 3 million riels' worth of goods.
"Now I have reopened my cafe and am selling to soldiers and tourists coming here. But none of the villagers have returned - it's just us three," Prak Sam El said. "I wanted to leave the trench, but there were so many machine-gun bullets flying around near me. So I just watched the fire, crying as it destroyed my property."