S OME of the estimated 40,000 refugees fleeing along Battambang's Route 10 from
the Khmer Rouge advance went by oxcart, others by motorcycles, but most walked.
A month earlier, people in the villages of Rattanak Mondol talked of
moving into new rice lands.
Despite the bright red deadhead signs and
tape that marked some of the most heavily mined acres in Cambodia, local people
did not fear the future.
The RCAF were pushing the Khmer Rouge from
Pailin, it seemed, the rich acres of western Battambang would be opened to the
returnees and internally displaced people living in Sdau and the small villages
which dotted surrounding countryside.
Three weeks later the villagers of
Rattanak Mondol were moving again, This time most did not even have time to
"We brought the children and one old bike", said Tom Kuhn, whose
six children were gathered near her underneath a fruitless tree.
"Everybody walked. We put the luggage on the bicycle and the children
carried small luggage. I carried the baby.
"I left the ax, the spade, all
the wooden spoons. But the only thing I worry about is the house. It had such a
good roof, the best thatched roof," Tom Kuhn continued, staring at the ground as
she breast fed her youngest child.
Many who fled took their families to
safety, only to return to the village of Sdau, Treng and Snung, in which
shelling and fighting continue, to retrieve possessions and animals.
Motor taxi drivers would only carry people to the edge of villages, then
each person had to make their own way.
"It's all I could take," said
Sophat, looking at the small bundle of clothing strapped with green plastic
twine to her bicycle's handlebars. "I brought my mother out. Then I went back to
Treng to get what I could. It was seven in the morning. Shells were falling so I
left without taking as much as I wanted. Everything I own is there."
promised my children," said an exhausted Chei Sarin, clutching his dog Pram.
"The dog pined for the house and ran back when we were only 3 km from Bung
"The children cried for the dog so I promised I would find him. I
kept going with my family and settled them. It was too dark to go back so I went
this morning. There was shelling and nobody around except soldiers. But the dog
was underneath the tree by the house. I just called his name and he came as if
nothing was wrong."
Many refugees streaming along Route 10 are returnees
from the Thai border camps. Others were displaced by fighting last year between
government forces and the Khmer Rouge in neighboring Bantey Meanchey
"I spent 11 years in Sok San camp," said 62-year- old Preah
Pram, squatting next to two bulging blue plastic bags stamped United Nations
High Commission for Refugees. "Then I was moved to Sdau. Now I'm in Phum Krapov
[Crocodile Village]. We'll keep going if it's not safe."
A woman standing
beside him said: "We don't have a tent, a roof. When the rains come we will die
if we don't have a roof."
Many of the refugees huddled in the shadow of
Crocodile Mountain were worried how they would survive.
bearing troops and the occasional tank or heavy artillery hurtled down the road
through the lines of walkers, carts and cattle.
Weaving among them were
market sellers with fully grown pigs stuffed into wicker baskets slung across
the back seat of the motorcycles.
People along the road said the
motorized meat buyers were paying less than half what they would have paid for
swine the month before.
"Can you help us? We left the rice. The chicken
and the ducks are still there," said Veng Sey, who had camped his family of ten
under the rafters of a half-built school house.
Despite the worries of
many, some of the refugees had set up a volleyball net in the small space in
front of the school and played a fierce game while Sey talked.
this year Sey's family had fled from fighting in Samlaut district. "I only have
enough rice for tonight. When the new people arrived in this town prices
immediately went up. It's always like that for new people."
all want to do something for these people," said a relief worker in Battambang
city. "But until they stop moving and stay in one place it's logistically
impossible. And they've managed to get out before the shelling began in their
villages. They've been through this before."
Not everyone who wanted to
"We had to leave some handicapped people behind because they
couldn't walk," said Kahn Sot, a rice farmer from Sdau.
"Some of the old
people couldn't walk very far so we left them 2-3km from where we started. They
had water but I don't know what they will do for food."
night, as the empty white clouds which harbinger Cambodia's rainy season
gathered at dusk, the front line lay in Treng, 20 km from Crocodile Village.
By 5.30 pm on Sunday, Crocodile Village had become a RCAF stronghold.
The villagers who had been refugees were now joined by the ice-cream
sellers and rice farmers who owned the fields the first refugees had camped in
the night before.
By Sunday night the front line had moved back several
km. Phnom Sampoa market had been emptied, and the army had stationed artillery
at the roadside, pointed toward the new front.
After heavy artillery
duels between the Khmer Rouge and the government all through the night, Monday
morning, May 2 found some farmers, barely 10 km from Battambang, packing rice
stores onto trucks in case they, too, had to abandon their homes. Rumors in
Battambang said the refugees were not being allowed further east than the army
camp, to ensure calm in the city.
Trucks with tables, mattresses,
plastic buckets and rice passed into the town, though, and even one or two
But for 12 km along Route 10, from the edge of Battambang to
within 1 km of Phnom Sampoa, people camped under oxcarts, trees, houses, Thai
mats and blue plastic sheeting from the refugee camps. Some camped simply
beneath the sky.
"I sent the children ahead in an oxcart" said Saroun as
She walked with a pole balanced across her shoulders.
At one end hung blackened cooking pots. On the other, three chickens
with trussed wings dangled as they pecked for food at the dusty air. "I don't
know where we'll finish."