Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Cambodian Refugees Wait-And Hope

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Cambodian Refugees Wait-And Hope

Article excerpt

AMID revived hopes for a settlement of Cambodia's civil war, 500,000 refugees wait for peace in camps inside the country and in neighboring Thailand.

Next week, the regime in Phnom Penh and the three resistance allies meet in Beijing as the diplomatic search for an end to Cambodia's 12-year civil war quickens.

Recently, the warring Cambodians agreed on a cease-fire and took steps toward establishing an interim council to preside over a United Nations-administered transition to peace.

International aid workers say the Cambodian refugees are watching developments with some hope and a lot of skepticism.

"This is the most promising sign in months," says the head of an international agency working in the camps in Thailand. "But they have been disappointed so many times, and they wonder if peace is really on the horizon."

This year, the tide of displaced Cambodians has continued to swell. Thousands of new refugees have fled to this dusty makeshift city of row after row of thatched huts, dogged by drought, famine, outbursts of new fighting, and forced conscription by the Cambodian government and the three allied resistance factions.

Every need is met by the United Nations and an array of international aid agencies working in the six UN-administered border camps. But violence has become an everyday occurrence.

A UN plan to temporarily administer Cambodia, monitor a cease-fire and elections, and disarm the factions has made headway recently as in-fighting has subsided.

The Chinese-backed Marxist rebels ruled Cambodia in a brutal regime from 1975 until Vietnam invaded in late 1978 and installed the present government. Years of war have soured refugees toward their leaders and convinced many that peace pivots on the two regional powers, China and Vietnam.

"The people in the camps feel they are hostages of their leaders," says an official of a large Western relief agency.

"We have some keys ready in our hands, but we have to see if we can get the others keys, which are Vietnam and China," says Tou Thon, administrator of 80,000 refugees in Rithisen, the largest sector of the Site 2 camp. …

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