Civilians ‘Concerned’ but Stoic Amid Standoff

By Yun Sameanpreah vihear temple – Eight-year-old Ol Srey Mao already knows what to do if fighting starts—run for the temple.

The large stone blocks of the 11th-century temple will be her hiding place, she said. “I’ll go up there,” Ol Srey Mao said Tuesday, pointing to what is known as the temple’s second entrance.

“I’m very afraid of the soldiers,” she said, sitting with other young children outside the wooden pavilion nearby the temple, where more than 200 women and kids have taken shelter since the buildup of Cambodian and Thai troops began last week.

Her grandmother, Van Kim Yan, 57, said the only contingency plan that the women and children have for protecting themselves is to seek shelter in the temple. She hopes that if the standoff descends into violence, both Cam­bo­dian and Thai troops keep the safety of civilians in mind and neither retreat nor advance on Preah Vihear ruins.

“Here, there are many big stones to hide behind,” Van Kim Yan said, sitting beneath a tarpaulin as she boiled donated rice for her breakfast. While the temple’s thick walls cannot be penetrated by gunfire, Van Kim Yan said the use of bombs was her biggest fear.

“Each family has at least two or three children. I’m concerned,” she said. “There is nothing we can do. This is our fate.”

Now staying under a tarpaulin near the pavilion, Sa Koeun, 35, said he, his wife and three children were placing their bets on evacuation if the situation became dangerous. Exactly who would organize that evacuation, Sa Koeun didn’t know.

“I don’t have any place to go. I am just waiting on evacuation. But if there is no evacuation, I will stay here. There is only the temple,” he said, adding he wasn’t concerned by the prospect of fighting. “Some of the people here have crossed many wars. We are not panicked.”

Eng Sophea, 41, has made the most of her temporary setting by selling iced coffee to the hundreds of troops stationed in Preah Vihear’s environs. She said she was staying at the temple only to be with her husband, a police officer taking part in the standoff.

“I will wait for him to leave, then I will leave,” she said.

While little had changed Tues­day at the pagoda, where several hundred Thai troops are posted or in the contested forested valley that separates both countries, many residents have abandoned their homes around the temple and in Kor 1 village, which lies at the foot of the mountain upon which Preah Vihear sits.

Hang Soth, director-general of the National Authority for Preah Vihear, said Tuesday there is an evacuation plan for the many civilians staying and working at the temple, but the details are confidential.

“I still have hope that there will be no conflict and that it does not descend into [needing evacuation]. But in theory, we have a plan for evacuation,” he said.

A steady flow of food donations have been sent to the temple in the past week. On Tuesday, a convoy of pickup trucks from the Royal Palace brought a donation from retired King Norodom Sihanouk of 20,000 kg of rice for soldiers and families staying at the temple.

“This motivates us,” Lieutenant Colonel Lim Savuth said of the donation. “It shows that the King Father supports us,” he said.

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