|The military coup of July 5, by which
Cambodia's Second Prime Minister took over total control of the government,
and the subsequent fighting has forced thousands, including supporters
of the former First Prime Minister, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, to flee the
This coup may throw Cambodia back into turmoil after a few years of relative peace following decades of dictatorships, a genocide and thousands of people escaping. From the mid-seventies the infamous Khmer Rouge of Pol Pot were responsible for the deaths of some two million people; some were killed, others dying of famine or illness. In 1979 Vietnam invaded Cambodia and installed a government led by Hun Sen who had been one of the Khmer Rouge leaders.
In 1993 the royalist party, led by Prince Ranariddh, won a clear victory in United Nations-led elections but the UN, threatened by Hun Sen with civil war, forced the formation of a coalition between the two. Now Hun Sen has ousted the Prince claiming that the latter war buying arms from abroad and seeking an agreement with what is left of the Khmer Rouge.
After the coup, many of the Prince's supporters were killed; others left the country. The most dramatic humanitarian crisis occurred close to the border with Thailand. The new regime's forces bombed some areas still under the royalists' control so heavily that thousands had to flee their homes.
Thailand, that has over the years received wave after wave of Cambodian refugees, initially refused to let these new refugees cross the border and thousands of people have been living on the streets for weeks. Their only protection from the heavy monsoon rains consists of pieces of plastic!
Thailand allowed a delegation from the UNHCR and the E.U. Humanitarian Office, and including members of some N.G.O.' s, to enter Cambodia on a fact-finding mission. The delegation found the refugees living in very bad conditions. There was no clean water and the little rice available was being given to the soldiers. There were many cases of malaria and diarrhoea but only one doctor to take care of all those thousands.
On August 18, with bombs falling even closer to the border, Thailand let the refugees in. Within a short time some 35,000 had entered. The lines of fleeing Cambodians stretched four miles. Some were farmers who took the livestock with them!
The refugees' flight preceded what refugees and Thai officials expected would be an all-out fight for O Smach, the last stronghold of supporters of the Prince.
The refugees, mostly women and young children, sheltered overnight at a market a mile inside Thailand, then moved to a refugee camp at Khueng Hoeichueng, four miles from the border.
Electricity, water, toilets, and medical facilities were in place at the site, and local Red Cross workers distributed instant noodles and plastic sheets for shelter.More than 1,000 of them were found suffering from diarrhea and other illnesses.
Within a few days of their arrival the refugees received rice and other provisions from UNHCR. The agency said it hoped the refugees would be allowed to stay in Thailand until the danger of returning home receded.
Asia Forum, a human rights group based in Bangkok, said that, even though most of the refugees were civilians escaping the bombing, some amongst them were royalist supporters who could be killed if Hun Sen's forces took the region.
Hun Sen himself has said that Defense Ministry officials will meet Thai authorities to arrange the return of the refugees.
The international community is putting pressure on Hun Sen to respect democracy. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which does not usually seem to have human rights as one of its priorities, has suspended indefinitely Cambodia's application for membership.
US Secretary of State Madeline Albright has appealed to regional leaders to do their best to solve this crisis. She proposed that Hun Sen's powerful militia be disarmed and new elections held. The US have frozen 40 million dollars of aid due for Cambodia.
The Australian Minister for Immigration has said that his country is
ready to accept a few of the refugees that have escaped to Thailand.
urges Cambodia settlement - 7/27/97
Refugee News: More on Cambodia