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Emotional fall-out of Thailand-Cambodia clashes

A long-running border
dispute between Thailand and Cambodia has flared into deadly clashes,
forcing thousands to evacuate their homes. The BBC’s Rachel Harvey
looks at the human cost of the conflict.

As the early
morning sun rose above the rooftops of the local government buildings,
orderly queues were forming in the car park down below.
More than 16,000 people on the Thai side of the border have been moved to temporary shelters
Villagers,
evacuated from their homes when Thailand and Cambodia renewed their
long-simmering border dispute with a new and deadly vengeance, lining
up for a free hot meal.
Most had spent the last two nights sleeping on mats on the ground.
More than 16,000 people on the Thai side of the border have been moved to temporary shelters.
Pranee Wanchalerm’s home is about 13km (8 miles) from the border – that was too close for comfort.
On Saturday night she sheltered in a bunker listening to the terrifying sound of shells falling around her.
“I saw the flashes in the sky and I was really afraid something was going to land on my house,” she said.
 
“I’ve never seen anything like this before – [the shelling] has never been this heavy before” Mon Sida
Thai villager
Those
fears were justified as a school a little closer to the disputed area
took a direct hit – or more accurately several hits.
The
main building now has a gaping hole in the roof. Three classrooms
behind it have been completely wrecked. Desks and chairs lie covered in
roofing tiles and other debris.
By some mercy the children were not in the classrooms. There was a special sports event that day, so they were outside.
The
extent of the structural damage vividly demonstrates the power of the
ordinance used. One can only imagine the potential human cost if the
bombardment had been at any other time or on any other school day.

 
Determined to stay

A
village a short distance away bears its own scars from the recent
battles. In the dusty earth between the wooden and concrete buildings
there is a crater more than 6m wide. Across the road, a house has been
gutted by fire. Another has part of a wall missing. 
Thailand and Cambodia continue to blame one another for the hostilities
Most people in the village have now moved to the evacuation camps.
But not Mon Sida – he doesn’t want to leave his property or his
chickens.
Mon has lived in this particular village for more than 30 years and in the district all his life.
“I’ve never seen anything like this before. It’s never been this heavy before,” he told me.
“It
wasn’t just one,” he adds, and then graphically imitates the sound of
an incoming mortar followed by several explosive booms, just to make
sure I’d understood.
A few other villagers arrived to
collect some belongings and to take stock, taking advantage of a lull
in the fighting. They loaded items on the back of a pick-up truck then
headed back towards the main town.
Mon is clearly very frightened. He saw his neighbour killed during the shelling but he is determined to stay on his land.
As
the truck drove off he was contemplating another night in his own
private refuge – a drainage pipe running under the main road.

 

‘Virtual observer’
Occasionally
we were passed on the road by an army jeep or truck, but there was no
sign of more artillery on the move. Presumably the weapons are now all
in position and well dug in. 
There is certainly no sign of either side backing down.
Thailand and Cambodia continue to blame one another for the initial hostilities and for each new outbreak since.
Cambodia
has called on the United Nations Security Council to get involved.
Thailand says there is no need for third-party intervention – bilateral
channels are best to resolve the border tension.
The
Indonesian Foreign Minister, Marty Natalegawa, has visited both
countries in the past two days offering to be what he called a “virtual
observer”, willing to listen to the complaints of both sides, though he
was careful to avoid the word mediator.
Asked whether there was any sign of progress, Mr Natalegawa replied: “Well I’m less pessimistic than I was two days ago.”
One day of calm doesn’t amount to a formal ceasefire, let alone a sustainable peace.
There
are still two armies, backed by an awful lot of military hardware,
facing each other across a disputed and volatile border. But it’s a
welcome respite after the past few days.

Source: BBC News

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Categories: Local News
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