ARANYAPRATHET, Thailand (AP) - One of the most successful operations in U.N history
is winding down with the repatriation of Cambodian refugees from Thailand's eastern
During its decade of work, the U.N Border Relief Operation has been criticized by
some Western relief officials for indirectly aiding the Khmer Rouge and other guerrillas
who controlled the refugees, thus prolonging the Cambodian conflict. Many others
praised it for freeing the refugees from the guerrillas' yoke and introducing democratic
ideas to many Cambodians.
All agree UNBRO was exceptional in feeding and physical care of the refugees, and
handling emergency evacuations of hundred of thousands of people as the refugee camps
were attacked over the years.
UNBRO staffs members led refugees out of shelling and stood in the way-sometimes
at gunpoint-when guerrillas and Thai soldiers tried to harm them.
UNBRO officers "did everything they could to improve the plight of the people,"
said Bob Medrala of the private American Refugee Committee.
The U.N agency started to pack up with last week's repatriation of almost all the
361,0000 Cambodians left in UNBRO- assisted camps in Thailand north and south of
this border town. Many returned home changed.
UNBRO and private relief agencies it contracted trained thousands of medics, teachers
and other skilled workers who now can start rebuilding their devastated county. In
the camp, they taught the ideas-revolutionary for Cambodians-that all people have
equal rights that must be respected.
When UNBRO held its first Human Rights Day celebration in the camps in 1988, an elephant
had to be brought in to get refugees to attend. Three years later, the refugees themselves
arranged Human Rights Day events.
The United States, UNBRO's top funder, called it the most efficient operation in
U.N history. UNBRO spent about 36 U.S cents a day to care for each refugee.
The U.N Children's fund and the International Committee of the Red Cross coordinated
relief for Cambodians who fled into Thailand starting in 1979, when a Vietnamese
invasion ousted the Khmer Rouge government and sparked a civil war. They pulled out
as the emergency ended. UNBRO was created in 1982 to help the hundreds of thousands
still at the border.
Authority rested with bosses in Bangkok and in the field, so UNBRO was not mired
by the U.N bureaucracy overseas. Most UNBRO staff were recruited in Thailand, from
private relief groups working with the refugees. Many spoke Thai or Khmer.
Some UNBRO workers, the British-based Oxfam relief organization and other critics
say that the West used UNBRO to support the guerrillas fighting the Vietnamese-installed
government. The guerrillas exploited the refugee camps for conscription and as fallback
bases, and robbed, raped and murdered refugees.
American Bob Maat said UNBRO also did not do enough to protect refugees from abuse,
and quit the agency because of moral misgivings.
UNBRO workers "didn't keep their eyes open to what they were getting involved
in, and those who did cry out weren't listened to at all," Maat said.
Critics especially opposed UNBRO's aid to Khmer Rouge controlled refugee camps where
UNBRO could not tell whether the food was being siphoned off by guerrillas because
UNBRO officers weren't allowed inside.
Widespread human rights abuses were reported in its refugees camps.