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Thais Say Cambodian Refugee Camps Attacked

April 20, 1989

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) _ Thai sources said Thursday that Vietnamese-backed forces have been pounding Khmer Rouge refugee camps near the Cambodian border with heavy artillery fire, but the secretive guerrilla organization has refused to allow evacuation of its wounded.

The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the shelling had caused many casualties, and the refugees had been driven deeper into Thailand.

As many as 4,000 shells fired from inside Cambodia crashed into a wide area along Thailand’s eastern Trat province on Monday and Tuesday, and more landed the following day, the military and other sources said on condition of anonymity. The area was reported quiet on Thursday.

″They just covered the whole area with shells,″ one source said.

They said the areas struck included the U.N.-aided camp of Ta Luan, which housed about 6,000 refugees, and Kaiche, a nearby camp where the Khmer Rouge have not allowed Western access but where 10,000 or more civilians were believed held.

Thousands of the refugees sought shelter deeper inside Thailand, including about 2,000 who fled from Kaiche to Ta Luan, sources said. Ta Luan is a few miles inside Thailand.

The sources quoted the fleeing Cambodians as saying they witnessed others killed or wounded, but no overall count was possible. In Ta Luan, at least several wounded people, some seriously hurt, were inside houses and underground shelters. Some evidently were moved there from a camp hospital because there were no shelters near the hospital, sources said.

Thai military sources said more than 100 houses in Ta Luan were destroyed. Other sources said the artillery and rocket rounds carved craters there and outside the camp.

A military source said many Thais were evacuated from villages in the area but that a 56-year-old man was killed.

The Khmer Rouge have not sent any wounded to Thai hospitals or to the border hospital of the International Red Cross. Officials have said the Khmer Rouge fear that these people will defect if they are allowed outside the camps.

Urs Boegli, head of the Red Cross delegation in Thailand, said after visiting the stricken area: ″The (Red Cross) is very concerned and is negotiating with the Thai government to find a solution for these people in danger, and in particular to be able to evacuate the wounded to the hospital at Khao-I-Dang, which was set up for exactly this kind of emergency.″

A military source said Thai authorities were considering evacuating the Cambodians at Ta Luan to a safer site.

Widespread human rights abuses have been reported in refugee camps in Thailand run by the communist Khmer Rouge, which killed hundreds of thousands of people when it ruled Cambodia in 1975-78 and attempted to implement a radical agrarian revolution.

The Khmer Rouge now is the strongest of three guerrilla groups fighting Vietnamese forces that invaded Cambodia in late 1978 and the forces of the Vietnamese-installed Phnom Penh government.

A Thai military source speculated that either Vietnamese or allied Cambodian government forces forces shelled the Ta Luan area to hurt the Khmer Rouge as much as possible before Vietnam’s promised troop pullout, which is to be completed by Sept. 30.

The area of the shelling includes major guerrilla strongholds.

Other sources said the attack may have been aimed at detering a renewed Khmer Rouge scheme to relocate people from Ta Luan to Kaiche and other areas closer to the Cambodia border for military purposes.

Vietnamese leader Nguyen Van Linh reportedly flew to Moscow Thursday for talks with President Mikhail S. Gorbachev on Vietnam’s planned military pullout from Cambodia.

Accompanying Linh on the four-day visit was Foreign Minister Nguyen Co Thach, the country’s main negotiator on the Cambodian issue, Japan’s Kyodo News Service reported from Hanoi, the Vietnamese capital.

Update hourly