Five Red Cross trucks on Monday returned the first of thousands of displaced Khmer Rouge defectors back to Anlong Veng, an aid official said.
The trucks made the four-hour trip from a temporary camp in O Bai Tap, according to Uy Sam Ath, the Cambodian Red Cross director of disaster management. It remained unclear how many people returned Monday.
The military and aid organizations are racing against time to return the defectors to their homes before heavy rains wash out the road to Anlong Veng.
Uy Sam Ath said it could be at least a week before everyone has returned.
Other aid and military officials have reported a stream of defectors returning by foot and military supply trucks to Anlong Veng in the last few days.
RCAF Deputy Chief of Staff Meas Sophea on Sunday said that about half of the people in O Bai Tap are waiting to return by truck to Anlong Veng.
Aid officials also made clear on Monday that approximately 5,000 people are in O Bai Tap, saying that provincial authorities have reported in recent days that 10,000 people were there.
The military originally reported in April that 5,625 defectors were sheltering in O Bai Tap, about 60 km north of Siem Reap town.
Peter Guest of the World Food Program said Monday that a combined convoy of at least six military trucks and the Red Cross trucks would leave early today for Anlong Veng.
The convoy could likely spend the night in the former rebel stronghold if heavy rains have worsened the road conditions, he said.
Other displaced defectors are making the approximately 60 km trip by foot, leading carts and cattle, aid and military officials have said.
Defectors who fled Anlong Veng in late March have said they walked for four days to reach O Bai Tap.
The World Food Program will continue to distribute food to displaced defectors based on need, Guest said. The organization will also provide food to Anlong Veng returnees if access to the remote northern village allows.