Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Remain Tough with Khmer Rouge

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Remain Tough with Khmer Rouge

Article excerpt

RACING against the onset of the rain season, convoys of United Nations trucks and buses are rumbling up the routes from Thailand to Cambodia, packed with refugees returning to their war-savaged country.

Some 350,000 Cambodians who fled the fighting in their homeland have been living in refugee camps in Thailand. UN officials would like to get the homeward flow of Cambodian refugees up to 30,000 a month. That would mean most of them would be out of the desolate refugee camps and resettled in their own country by the middle of 1993, and thus would be able to participate in elections Cambodia is scheduled to hold at that time to determine its future.

UN officials say the refugees are going home voluntarily. None are being pressured, but there are inducements. Drawing on an $880 million aid budget, the UN offers returning refugees kits to build simple homes, a $50-a-head cash payment, tools, training in new job skills, plus food to keep them going for a year.

If peace is really coming to Cambodia, better that the refugees should be leaving their unproductive lives in the camps of Thailand and going home. But that is a very big "if."

The UN with its refugee program in Thailand, and its peacekeeping operation in Cambodia, is in a race not only against the rains, but against the distinct prospect that the whole fragile peace process will collapse. If that happens, will 350,000 returned Cambodian refugees, plus new ones, come flooding back into Thailand? "That," says one UN official grimly, "is something we don't talk about."

But it's on the minds of the returning Cambodian refugees. Few of them are requesting repatriation to the areas controlled by the Khmer Rouge. Many are seeking resettlement in border areas whence they can quickly flee back to Thailand if things turn bad again.

The returning Cambodians hope that peace will be lasting. But they are all too aware of the reality: The present UN peace plan imposed on their homeland is fragile and fraught with peril.

The problem is the infamous Khmer Rouge, the pro-communist faction that, when it ruled Cambodia, turned it into a charnel house. …

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