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Villagers return to the border

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Boys zip up a plastic tarpaulin while preparing to return home following fighting at the Oddar Meanchey province border in May.

Villageer in Oddar Meanchey province have begun returning to their homes after fleeing last week amid fears that national elections in Thailand could touch off a new round of violence along the border.

A group of roughly 55 families from Oddar Meanchey’s Banteay Ampil district living near the border temples of Ta Moan and Ta Krabey fled last week following warnings from the Cambodian military that Thailand was planning to attack the area. Ta Moan and Ta Krabey were the scene of bloody clashes in April.

The villagers fled to the Wat Ku pagoda, roughly 15 kilometres from the border.

Yesterday, however, a group of roughly 10 families made  its way back home, said Oun Ry, chief of Thmar Daun commune in Banteay Ampil.

“We cannot force them to go back home or stay in the pagoda – it is their right,” he said. Local officials, he added, had been unable to provide relief supplies at the pagoda.

Villagers had feared the prospect of renewed fighting both in view of tensions between the Thai and Cambodian delegations at last month’s meeting of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee as well as the coming elections, completed Sunday.

But with the previous government of outgoing Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva ousted Sunday, Banteay Ampil residents said they were cautiously optimistic that any threat of violence had passed.

“I was worried, but now I’m not worried very much because Abhisit has resigned,” Thhmar Daun village chief Pich Sinath said.

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