Cham Students Evacuated From Yemen

Evacuation could not have come at a better time for 16 Cambodian students studying in war-torn Yemen.

After rebel Houthi fighters began an assault on government forces in the southern port city of Aden late last month, a Saudi-led coalition unleashed devastating airstrikes targeting Houthi positions throughout the country, including in the capital, Sanaa.

As the bombs began to fall, Tort Diail, 23, a Cham Muslim from Kompong Chhnang province, said he became trapped in Sanaa, too scared to leave.

“I could not even go out to have a look because I was concerned about the danger,” Mr. Diail said by telephone Monday from neighboring Oman, where he was evacuated over the weekend.

“I heard the shooting and I felt very scared because I had never experienced a situation like this before.”

In a statement released Wednesday, the U.N. said that nearly 550 people had been killed in Yemen over the previous two weeks, including 74 children. Speaking to the media in Geneva on Friday, Johannes van der Klaauw, the U.N.’s humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, said “the humanitarian situation in Yemen is getting worse by the hour.”

Mr. Diail, who said he had been in Yemen for about a year, was one of at least 20 Cambodian Muslim students studying Islam and Arabic in the country.

Last week, the Foreign Affairs Ministry said the Malaysian Embassy in Yemen was looking after the students while they waited to be evacuated.

Othsman Hassan, a secretary of state in the Labor Ministry and a leader of Cambodia’s Cham Muslim community, said Monday that only 16 of the students had decided to cross the border into Oman.

“The other four students have exams and when they finish, they will come home,” Mr. Hassan said, adding that their school was far from any fighting in Yemen.

Mr. Hassan said the other 16 students were scheduled to fly out of Oman’s capital, Muscat, late Monday night and were expected to arrive in Phnom Penh at 3 p.m. Tuesday.

According to a statement released by Singapore’s Foreign Affairs Ministry on Monday, the Singaporean government on Sunday arranged for a bus to take eight Singaporeans and citizens of six other countries—including Cambodia—from Tarim, Yemen, to Salalah in Oman.

In an email, the Singaporean ministry said the Cambodian students were taken safely across the border.

“[T]he Malaysian Embassy collected them and then passed them to the hands of Mr. Mahmood [Alshahwarzi],” the ministry said.

Contacted by telephone, Mr. Alshahwarzi said he was an employee of the Al Serkal company.

“We have close relations with the Cambodian Muslim people and relations with all Cambodia,” he said, declining to elaborate.

Last month, Prime Minister Hun Sen inaugurated a $2.9-million mosque in Phnom Penh, which was funded by Eisa bin Nasser Alserkal, chairman of the Dubai-based Al Serkal Group.

Mr. Alshawarzi said the Cambodian students were flown from Salalah to Muscat on Monday, where they would board an 11:30 p.m. flight home on Qatar Airways.

In interviews Monday, the students said they ranged in age from 23 to 30 and were studying in Yemen to gain a better understanding of Islam and Arabic.

Alberto Perez Pereiro, an expert on Islam in Cambodia, said Yemen was a popular choice for students of Arabic, partly because the costs of living and studying there were lower than in neighboring states.

“The Arabic spoken there has a certain regard,” Mr. Perez Pereiro said, explaining that the Yemeni dialect was similar to Quranic Arabic.

Although the students said they were happy to finally be out of danger, Mr. Diail from Kompong Chhnang said they were also sorry to be leaving their studies behind.

“We are disappointed because we will miss studying there,” he said.

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