HOUR CHENG REFUGEE CAMP, Thailand - At the same time as the Khmer Rouge forces were
defecting to the government last weekend, the resistance forces under General Nhiek
Bun Chhay were contemplating their futures.
But unlike the KR, which appears united and committed to returning to the fold, there
is still a vein of mistrust in the minds of resistance forces and their families
- mainly, they say, because of the sidelining of Bun Chhay.
Bun Chhay commands strong personal loyalty and the govern-ment's refusal to give
him an appointment is seen by many of his followers as a warning that they too will
And the approbation seems more directed towards Prince Ranariddh than Hun Sen.
One Funcinpec supporter living in the Prasat district of the Thai province, Surin
- at the refugee camp belonging to those who fled from O'Smach - condemned Ranariddh,
saying that as soon as he got into the government he abandoned his supporters.
"We are like the used sugar cane stick. Once the juice has been sucked out he
threw us away," he said.
He said that the Prince should be supporting them now more than ever because they
were the only ones who fought for democracy after the coup.
"The Prince should come and encourage us. He should not abandon us because we
were the people who struggled for democracy and helped him get back into power,"
he said. "Most of the people will not now trust him."
He added that the people believe they need Bun Chhay to protect them when they did
return because "the people need the strong man to go against the strong man".
The cause of the discontent relates to the Dec. 3 communiqué from Bun Chhay
ordering his forces to reintergrate with RCAF.
It is not the integration that is the issue - rather, it is the failure of the government
to find any role for Bun Chhay. Many here see this as a betrayal by Ranariddh of
one of his most loyal supporters.
Bun Chhay's communiqué left no room for doubt about his current position.
It says: "The complete responsibility and full right is given to General Khan
Savoeun and General Hun Phoeun to arrange the reintegration."
His own role in the process was, according to his communiqué, none. He added
his own future was up to the government to decide.
Deputy leader of the Hour Cheng camp, Pim Sambou, said that people were pleased Bun
Chhay had been amnestied but unhappy he had no official role. "Because Bun Chhay
has no appointment there will be no balance," he said. "Nhiek Bun Chhay
is a patriot. He has no faults."
Preap Tan, an officer in RCAF general staff, said this week that all former resistance
fighters who previously belonged to RCAF would be eligible to reintegrate with the
He said RCAF had computerized personnel records that would allow them to check that
applicants for reintegration had been soldiers before July 1997. Those who were not
on record would not be accepted. The only exception to this decision is Bun Chhay.
Choeun Ny, the commander of Battalion 24, asked why Bun Chhay gave his forces over
to Savoeun and Phoeung, said: "[Bun Chhay] may be disappointed with his struggle
so he gave all the power to other people, and he now just stays in a quiet place."
He was told that Ranariddh rang Bun Chhay and told him to keep a low profile till
the next election, in five years time, at which point Ranariddh would look after
Ny believes that the negotiations had been badly handled and had simply backed the
resistance forces into a corner. He added that many people had apparently wasted
their lives fighting for the resistance.
"We have to go back to the government," he said. "We cannot struggle
here because no one will support us any more even [US Congressman] Dana Rohrabacher.
Now all the opposition parties have joined to form the government no-one, like Thailand,
will support us. They will not give us land to live on and Rohrabacher cannot do
anything for us because he sees no point in helping us anymore.
"And now everything is finished. The struggle is dead - and for no meaning at
Meanwhile the families of the soldiers in the refugee camp are uncertain that reintegration
will mean a better life for them.
Man San, 44, a village chief, said that he was concerned about going back to Cambodia
because he believed some people there still harbored resentment against the resistance
and might try and take revenge. "I do not trust them. What they say is right
but what they practice is different."
He added that the biggest concern for most of the families was the treatment of Bun
Chhay. "We use to work together but now we have lost one. We don't know the
reason. So now we are not living happily."
He said if Ranariddh did not protect someone like Bun Chhay, it seemed unlikely he
would do much more to look after those lower down.
However others said that they would probably risk a return, mainly because of poor
conditions at the camp. About 7,600 people are cramped in here and there is very
little land around it.
Till recently there had been 500 extra people for whom no rice was provided. People
say that some of those were people who had fled Phnom Penh during the demonstrations,
and who had since gone to O'Smach.
Many people try to make a living from trading or by producing handicrafts. There
are a full range of shops and services available here but few people have money to
Sok Chin, 44, who runs a store, says his income from trading is usually about 20
baht a day (2000 riel, or less than 50 cents).
Chin is one of the few in the camp who said he was still unconditionally loyal to
Funcinpec, however he admitted he did not understand the political changes happening
at the moment.
"But I believe that they will work together and I trust the Funcinpec leader."
The camp - which, if poor, is nevertheless well maintained - was moved to its present
site in April after flooding made conditions impossible at the previous site.
Most of those spoken to looked forward to the time when they would not have to rely
on the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) for hand-outs of rice.
"The people have to steal away to be laborers even though there is metal wire
around the camp and the practice is banned by the Thai guards. We have to go out
to find some cash to make up for the shortage of food," said Chin.
There is also a constant fear that the camp - made of wood and dried palm thatch,
and surrounded by barbed wire - could become a death trap.
Saroeun said if a fire caught hold it would spread quickly and many people would
die because there was no way to escape through the wire. Even the Thai guards acknowledge
that a fire in the camp would be fatal for many.