P OIPET/ARANYAPRATHET - Every day they cross the border. For 1,000 riels they buy
the pink day-pass that allows them to go over to the Thai side, to the Khmer market
at Aranyaprathet. Unlike the many other Cambodians who earn a living pulling and
pushing goods across the border, these people have just one aim: hiding themselves.
Most of them escaped from Phnom Penh a few days after Hun Sen attacked Funcinpec.
They headed for the promised land of Poipet, the Banteay Meanchey border town, one
of few places they considered secure from the forces of the CPP.
Poipet remains under Royalist control, though maybe not for long. Fearing CPP "spies",
many of those who have sought sanctuary in Poipet cross over into Thailand to spend
each day at Aranyaprathet, where they feel safer.
These are the people who didn't have the chance to get flights out of Cambodia in
the wake of the Hun Sen take-over in Phnom Penh, mostly low to mid-ranking Funcinpec
or opposition officials, activists, soldiers and policemen who believe they have
reason to fear for their safety.
There are about 150 of them in Poipet. For now, they can cross into Thailand for
the day, where they wander idly through the market alleys. From time to time, they
bump into each other and sit down at restaurants. Their hatred for Hun Sen alive,
they nourish themselves with rumors and scraps of information about Phnom Penh from
new-comers. And they trade stories about their escapes from the capital.
"On Monday morning [after the weekend fighting], Hun Sen's men came to my house
and asked my wife where I was," says one Funcinpec-aligned policeman. "I
was afraid. I ran away out the back door and jumped into the lake behind my house.
"I went to my home town in Saang district [Kandal] but there were too many soldiers
around, so I went back and hid in my uncle's house near the Russian market."
The next day, the policeman was taken - in the boot of a car - to a Phnom Penh market
to catch a taxi to Battambang.
"I asked the taxi driver if I could drive instead of him, so at the checkpoints
the soldiers checked the identities of the passengers but not me."
Others who have run away to Poipet include opposition journalists and Khmer Nation
Party (KNP) activists, relatives of Funcinpec officials arrested or killed in Phnom
Penh, and party bodyguards.
"We pretended to be business women when the soldiers checked out identity along
the way," said one woman, a relative of executed Ministry of Interior official
In the no-man's-land between Poipet and the bridge that marks the Thai border, bodyguards
of Funcinpec military chiefs Nhek Bun Chhay and Serey Kosal sat in hammocks last
week, awaiting news from their bosses.
A few people, those with the right connections, have managed to cross into Thailand
and stay there. But for most, they can get only day-passes to Aranyaprathet, and
fear arrest by Thai authorities if they do not return to Cambodian soil each night.
Most of them still do not feel secure. "Even in Poipet, it is not safe,"
says one woman. "The CPP has sent a lot of spies here."
The refugees keep themselves updated on the military situation in the northwest.
In the meantime, while a committee of military commanders from various factions is
negotiating, they have been given a reprieve. But they fear that fighting or surrender
by Royalist forces will shatter their fragile security.
"I am afraid that if there is fighting, Thailand will not let me go there,"
says the policeman. "I am very worried for my life. I am worried about making
a living too. I have no money."
"The negotiations are proceeding with Hun Sen's people. It means that the [Royalist]
troops will support the informal government," says a KNP-aligned newspaper editor.
"I am against the informal government. I will have to flee."
KNP leader Sam Rainsy, who has been staying in Bangkok, came to Poipet July 15. Thai
immigration officials refused him permission to cross the border, so he came in via
the "back door", sources say. He stayed only 10 minutes or so, passing
"He said that Cambodians should stand up against the CPP and not obey their
orders," said one KNP activist.
The next day, six KNP members who tried to cross illegally into Thailand to meet
up with Rainsy were arrested by Thai officials and remain detained. In Thailand,
the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) is trying to negotiate over
these people and other KNP steering committee members seeking asylum.
In Aranyaprathet, KNP supporters from Paris have arrived to try to help their party
"Our priority is to get them out of there," said one Parisian committee
member of the KNP members in Poipet.
In the meantime, many of the self-proclaimed exiles from Phnom Penh continue to cross
into Thailand by day, returning dutifully to Cambodia at 5pm each night. They spend
the night at the Poipet market, seeking out friends or soldiers for the feeling of
protection, and think about their options for the future.