Photo by: REUTERS
Thousands of displaced Cambodians receive government-supported aid at a temporary shelter after fleeing their villages.
The cessation of fighting at the border along Preah Vihear since Monday raises hopes of an end to violence in the region. As the Thai and Cambodian governments point the finger of blame at each other and bicker over whether the dispute ought to be resolved bilaterally or with the assistance of an international body, both governments must give immediate attention to the plight of the people who have been displaced by the fighting.
On the Cambodian side of the border, it is reported that as many as 4,100 people have been evacuated from their homes. A previous clash at Preah Vihear in April 2009 resulted in the evacuation of three
Cambodian villages and the creation of an internally displaced persons’ camp – Sa Em IDP Camp – which struggled to accommodate and provide for the 1,660 evacuees who were reported to have been housed there.
Despite support from the Cambodian Red Cross and other humanitarian aid agencies as well as the local authorities, shortages of food, a lack of adequate shelter, unsafe drinking water, complications relating to human waste management and a lack of medical provisions and practitioners rendered the camp uninhabitable.
The humanitarian challenge now facing the Cambodian authorities – with the number of displaced persons two and a half times greater than in 2009 – is on a scale not previously encountered throughout the course of this conflict. Conditions in camps that have been set up in Koulen district are said to be cramped, and while the Red Cross has said that there are no major concerns regarding health or disease, the situation could change quickly.
The clashes of the last week are reported to have reached new levels of intensity and have affected a much larger geographical area than in 2009; while the 2009 clash was limited to the immediate area surrounding Preah Vihear temple, it is reported in this instance that Thai shells landed as far as 27 kilometres inside Cambodian territory.
The tense stand-off, with no real resolution in sight, and the damage that has likely resulted from the clashes, may keep evacuated persons from their homes for a much more prolonged period than in 2009, making adequate humanitarian efforts all the more vital.
The reported use of cluster munitions by the Thai military further complicates matters as it will demand a survey and clearance operation to guarantee the physical safety of these people when they do return to their homes.
In a press release dated February 8, 2011, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights called on the Thai and Cambodian governments to put people before politics and to ensure an immediate end to hostilities.
As the Cambodian government appeals to the international community to intervene to resolve the issue of ownership of the disputed territory surrounding the temple, it must ensure that any request for assistance is not limited to the political side of this conflict, but also addresses the humanitarian situation that the conflict has created, so that the dignity and well-being of the displaced people is guaranteed.
President of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights.
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