K ILO 38, ROUTE 10-Refugees say authorities are coercing them to return to their
homes along Route 10 in Battambang province, even though there has been
One man has died and another has lost a leg after tripping
newly-laid mines at their commune on the highway, Kilo 38, said mother-of-two
Along with other villagers she said she was told by her
district chief that rice handouts would only be made at their homes and no
longer at their refugee camp outside Battambang.
She said as she clutched
her baby: "The government said if we did not come back we would not have rice,
though we were afraid to go back. There were mines here before but they had
already been cleared.
"They have laid them again and now I am afraid to
go in my backgarden."
Following the RCAF's embarrassing withdrawal from
Pailin in April, the Khmer Rouge pushed them back along Route 10 all the way to
Some 40,000 people fled their homes along the highway
ahead of the guerrillas. But though the majority have now gone back to their
villages the re-mining and destruction caused by the fighting mean their misery
is far from over.
During a visit by the Post on June 20, a cow triggered
a newly-laid mine just off the highway at Boeng Ampil, just 100 meters in front
of photographer Gary Way. The beast lost part of a back leg and was butchered by
villagers. It was one of several to trip mines around the settlement.
Mines Advisory Group's Russell Bedford said that there was even evidence that
anti-personnel mines had been laid on paths between houses.
"We can't say which side is responsible as they are both using the same type of
Bedford's colleague Sandy Powell said: "There has been re-mining
but we can't say to what degree. It is going to be dangerous for the refugees at
least in the short term.
"It would help if people in the provincial
government were on the same wavelength, some are quite helpful but others
Some villagers were even literally taking their lives in their
hands by digging up the mines themselves, or throwing rocks at them.
shophouses at Boeng Ampil's market were among the estimated 1,820 homes
destroyed during the fighting along the highway.
Van Som returned two
days before with her family to find their home, where she sold fruit and
vegetables, was among those burnt down.
"I'm very upset most of our
clothes and cooking things were here," she said as her son began working on
erecting the wooden framework for a new home on the ashes of their old
Yut Pon, who returned with her four children and grandson, said she
was not confident that the RCAF could protect the villagers from new attacks by
the Khmer Rouge.
Pointing to hills to the northwest and south she said:
"The KR is always living in the forests and they can shell us."
lady said her home had been burnt down for the third time in the last few years
and added: "Now we have to sleep on the ground."
A little farther up
from Boeng Ampil lies the wreckage of a civilian truck used by the army which
struck an anti-tank mine as it pulled out from a sideroad onto Route 10 ten days
earlier. A nearby soldier said three died and two were injured in the blast. One
of the corpses, minus arms and legs, was blown 30 meters into a field opposite
and was cremated where it lay.
At Sdau on June 20 another refugee Meng
Hieng said she had returned with her family after the government told her rice
would only be distributed at her village.
She said: "I was afraid to come
back because of the mines and DK [Khmer Rouge] shelling but I am also afraid we
would have no food."
The Ratanak Mondol district center at Sdau, like the
nearby hospital and school were burnt out and left as empty shells. The district
center was burnt out three years earlier and refurbishing work was just being
completed went it was set alight again during April's fighting.
Battambang's First Deputy Governor Gen Serei Kosal denied rice was being
used as a weapon to persuade refugees to return to their villages.
said: "We are not forcing anybody to go back but people want to go back quickly
before we can look for mines."
Gen Kosal estimated that two thirds of the
40,000 refugees had gone back but admitted that if all the refugees had stayed
in camps near Battambang it would have created a long-term problem.
rice planting season would be missed and the government and NGOs would have to
go on supporting families, he said.
Gen Kosal added that teams from MAG
and the Cambodian Mine Action Center were warning people to beware of
One Western observer said: "It is difficult to know where the
orders came from. It could have originated from the district chiefs where the
refugees were staying. They may have wanted to move them out of the way so his
own people could plant rice on the land. There may have been nothing in the
threats but it was enough to move a lot of people."
Gen Kosal said the
damage ran into several million dollars and he appealed to the outside world to
assist in reconstruction.