As Prime Minister Hun Sen urged Cambodians living and working in South Korea to remain calm, reactions among workers there ranged from confused, to concerned, to composed over the rumblings that have recently intensified on the restive Korean peninsula.
Tensions between North and South Korea have increased in recent weeks – the bellicose North withdrew last month from the 1953 Korean War armistice, and in recent days South Korean and US officials have warned of imminent missile tests. With more than 25,000 Cambodians working in the South, some are calling the Cambodian government’s response slow.
Cambodian Ly Ratha, 28, who works on a farm near the North Korean border, said he was troubled by the mounting tensions, and especially by the lack of information from Cambodian officials on how to cope with them.
“I heard from other neighbouring workers that their embassies told them about evacuation plans, but our embassy has not informed us,” he said.
“I appeal to our Cambodian government to explain to us about an evacuation [plan] if there is real war,” he added.
In fact, Cambodian officials plan to do just that. Officials left for South Korea yesterday for a week-long information tour. Cambodians in and around the capital of Seoul will receive instructions on how to evacuate to a safe zone in Busan province, Heng Sour, a Ministry of Labor official, said last week.
Busan is some 500 kilometres from the border with the North, unlike Seoul, which is less than 100 kilometres away.
Another agricultural worker, Srey Mom, 27, who works in Seoul, said she worried a little, but despite near-daily calls from her distressed parents, South Koreans’ apparent calm in the face of the increased threats was reassuring.
“My relatives call me all the time because they worry about war in this country, but in Seoul, their people work normally,” she said. “They have no fear or shock of war being created by North Korea, because they understand it might not happen.”
Even more confident was fruit farm worker Sun Chetra, 31, who said he didn’t believe that world powers would let the Korean standoff escalate into all-out war.
Speaking in Prey Veng province yesterday, Hun Sen called for level-headedness on the parts of both Cambodian residents and diplomats.
“I appeal to all families who have children, husbands, relatives working or studying in South Korea, as well as all diplomats working in South and North Korea. Please be calm according to what government measurement is,” he said.
The premier also noted that other Southeast Asian nations had not yet evacuated their citizens, and that doing so would be tantamount to abandoning South Korea during a rough patch. “If South Koreans, North Koreans and Japanese can live there, why don’t we continue to live with them? We can’t run away from our friend in a difficult circumstance,” he said.
Hun Sen left Cambodian civil servants with some food for thought as well, saying that Cambodian ambassadors in North and South Korea would be demoted if they fled the countries without seeing to other Cambodians first.
Chhay Channyda reported from Phnom Penh.