The government and aid organizations are planning to begin today moving thousands of internal refugees back to their homes in the former Khmer Rouge zone of Anlong Veng, officials said this weekend.
The organizers, however, are more concerned about the impending heavy rains and the 60 km of bad road than they are about lurking land mines and guerrilla snipers.
“It also depends on the rain
situation. If it rains heavily this weekend, we will not be able to go,” one Cambodia Area Rehabilitation and Regeneration official said Saturday.
“[The road is] very bad for several kilometers and the rest of the way it seems to be bad also,” the Carere official said. “We have to start moving people before the rainy season. Otherwise we won’t be able take the roads.”
RCAF Deputy Chief of General Staff Meas Sophea said Sunday the organizations will try to finish transporting between 10,000 and 13,000 people from the camp within a few days.
“The rain is trouble, too, but we still need to carry this out because the rainy season is the right time for planting rice,” he said.
Many defectors have articulated the desire to move back home to Anlong Veng before the wet season in order to plant their rice crops. Others have also complained about living conditions in O Bai Tap, saying the dirty water they are forced to drink and bathe in has made them ill.
“They are living in the forest so it’s better they should go back to Anlong Veng,” said Uy Sam Ath, director of disaster management for the Cambodian Red Cross. “It is too difficult for the Royal Government to take care of them or to find new land for them.”
“[Moving the defectors home] alleviates the responsibility of the Royal Government,” he said.
The camp’s numbers have grown from 5,600 in mid-April to more than 10,000 in recent days. RCAF has funneled defectors from two other camps nearby to O Bai Tap to prepare for the move, according to Uy Sam Ath.
He added that the move may take up to a week.
Aid and military officials said Anlong Veng is safe from guerrilla activity and that the Cambodian Mine Action Center is active in Anlong Veng.
“Right now Anlong Veng is safe and Khmer Rouge rebels will not go there again,” Meas Sophea said.
Defectors have said they would not go back to Anlong Veng as long as fighting persisted. However, top military officials reported last week that the rebels had been pushed out of the northern reaches of Anlong Veng, a swath of land believed to be home to more than 30,000 people before fighting forced many to flee.
The Carere official said provincial authorities “have already facilitated the return of several hundred people by trucks” to Anlong Veng and others have already made the trip by themselves.
The Cambodian Red Cross distributed 100 tons of fish, rice, oil and salt from the World Food Program on Saturday and Sunday.