Aid Given to 6,200 Refugees in B Meanchey

Aid organizations are assisting more than 6,200 civilians who fled fighting earlier this month near their villages on the northwest border with Thailand, officials said Monday.

The Cambodian Red Cross and the World Food Program on Tuesday distributed food rations for a month and household kits and will distribute supplies again Thursday in Thma Sin village and Thma Pouk town in Banteay Meanchey province, said Uy Sam Ath, the CRC’s director of disaster management.

“It is the most important distribution we have made since July,” Uy Sam Ath said. “If we don’t distribute food they will face a food shortage.”

Over the last two weeks the civilians have fanned out in Thma Pouk district after fleeing border skirmishes, he said. Some of them did so after initially crossing the border into Thailand.

It appears a variety of conditions have led up to the exodus.

It began with a request by Thai authorities for approximately 1,200 of the civilians to leave their soil by March 9.

The civilians had been “hanging on” just over the border in Thai­land after fleeing factional fighting in their villages of Nung Cham and O’Bai Choan in Dec­em­ber, according to Maurits van Pelt, chief of mission for the international medical organization, Medicins Sans Frontieres.

“They were sitting on the grass, just a few meters across the border,” van Pelt said.

Meas Sophea, deputy chief of RCAF general staff, confirmed that the Thais asked the civilians to return to Cambodia un­der an   agreement with Thailand.

Despite protection from RCAF Division 12 troops after the villagers’ return, officials said, fighting between gov­ernment soldiers and resistance troops forced the villagers to other parts of Thma Pouk district.

About half of the villagers who fled have ended up in the village of Nimith, about 12 km from the Thai border on Route 6, and the nearby Nimith pagoda. RCAF Division 12 is based at Nimith.

Villagers from O’Bai Choan and Nung Chan were repatriated in 1993 from the Site 2 refugee camp in Thailand, van Pelt said. The area was largely inaccessible until mid-1996, when the Khmer Rouge movement splintered and ma­ny defected to the government, opening up large areas of territory to Cambodia’s interior.

The villagers’ living conditions are worsened by lingering factional fighting and the currency crisis afflicting the Thai baht.

(Additional reporting by Touch Rotha)

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