Last Updated: Friday, 19 September 2014, 13:55 GMT

Cambodia: Residents flee as war fears stirred up

Publisher Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)
Publication Date 20 October 2008
Cite as Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), Cambodia: Residents flee as war fears stirred up, 20 October 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/48fd88b01e.html [accessed 21 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

PHNOM PENH AND PREAH VIHEAR, 20 October 2008 (IRIN) - After three Cambodian soldiers were killed in an intense gun battle with Thai troops at Veal Antri on 15 October, Cambodians have been fleeing their homes at the border, fearing more violence.

At the same time, several hundred Thai residents have left the country.

"Everyone left last week and there are not many people left. I fear for my safety. Someone could break into my home," Kosal, who owns a guesthouse in the border town of O'Smach, told IRIN.

Robbers have taken advantage of the situation, stealing motorbikes and raising fears that homes could be looted, the Phnom Penh Post reported on 17 October.

The gunfire exchange came during a three-month border dispute between Cambodia and Thailand over the ownership of the Preah Vihear temple.

"This panic is a natural reaction to the noise of the clash, because Cambodians have been used to peace for over a decade," Ngoeun Pen, adviser to the Council of Ministers in Cambodia, told IRIN.

Pen could not confirm reports, however, that border residents were fleeing.

Reports indicate troops fired small arms and rocket launchers, with one Thai army helicopter opening fire on Cambodian troops. Neither side took responsibility for firing first.

Both governments have attempted several negotiations since July ? including seeking intervention from the UN Security Council ? but have found no solution. The Cambodian government has rejected calls for mediation by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), citing Thailand's leadership role in the regional bloc.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen issued an ultimatum on 13 October to the Thai government to remove its troops or risk "full-scale armed conflict".

Since the 15 October battle, he has not mentioned the ultimatum, instead urging Cambodians living in border towns to remain calm while both sides engage in talks.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon expressed concern over the exchange of gunfire, urging both sides to "exercise utmost restraint" and "expedite bilateral talks so that their differences can be resolved peacefully".

Both sides have been digging trenches and increasing their troop presence before the scheduled negotiations, the Phnom Penh Post reported on 20 October.

Retribution fears

An estimated 500 to 700 Thai nationals out of 1,400 have left Cambodia, Kamrob Palawatwichai, press secretary for the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh, told IRIN.

Thai Foreign Minister Sompong Amornvivat advised Thai nationals to return home if it is not "immediately necessary" for them to stay in Cambodia. An evacuation plan was also in place should tensions escalate.

"Under Cambodian law, Thai nationals are protected along with all foreigners," Pen told IRIN. "We do not express any anger towards Thais over the clash as we seek a peaceful resolution."

"I am worried about the situation, but mostly as a precaution," one Thai citizen living in Cambodia, who requested her name not be revealed, told IRIN.

But unlike some, she sees no need to leave the country because she thinks no immediate threat exists.

The tensions stir up memories of anti-Thai riots in 2003 that led to the torching of the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh. The riots began when false reports were circulated that a Thai celebrity claimed the famed Angkor Wat temple was of Thai heritage, prompting Cambodian demonstrators to take to the streets, destroying Thai businesses.

"None of us expected the small problems would become so big," the woman told IRIN. "There were no winners in the situation. Thais lost good feelings, good friends, property, and almost some lives.

"I know most Cambodians are not extremely nationalistic, and that we can find a more intelligent way to solve this problem," she added. "My generation of Thais doesn't care about getting Preah Vihear. It's just stones."

She is one of the first Thai nationals to arrive in Cambodia, having settled in 1990 when the country was still closed under Hun Sen.

"Back then, I never felt tensions between Thais and Cambodians. Cambodians referred to us [Thais] as long-lost brothers and sisters," she said, referring to the first arrival of foreigners after the country was closed under the Maoist Khmer Rouge regime from 1975 to 1979.

gc/mw


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