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EDITOR’S NOTE - The communist Khmer Rouge guerrillas ar

February 9, 1991

EDITOR’S NOTE - The communist Khmer Rouge guerrillas are letting relief agencies into more of their refugee camps and non-communist rebel groups have begun a U.S.-financed rural development program. Here is a report from areas where displaced Cambodians await an end to decades of war in their country.

Undated (AP) _ By PETER ENG Associated Press Writer

SITE 8 REFUGEE CAMP, Thailand (AP) - The distant bamboo huts once seen from the dirt road are gone, and with them thousands of refugees Western relief workers had tried for a decade to reach.

About 60,000 to 100,000 civilians controlled by Khmer Rouge guerrillas lived in ″hidden camps″ like the huts of Khao Din, once nestled at the base of a mountain near Site 8, a Khmer Rouge camp open to U.N. officials.

There were reports of many human rights violations in the hidden camps and Western aid officials were not allowed into them, despite repeated appeals.

Khao Din and all the other hidden camps were moved from Thailand just across the border into western Cambodia by mid-1990, apparently on orders of Thai authorities. No international outcry resulted.

″Nobody seemed to be interested,″ said Jean-Jacques Fresard, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Thailand. ″It was as if these people never existed.″

″Most of them were brought to very unhealthy areas and thousands have tried to get back to Thailand for medical help,″ he said. ″Some of those with malaria are in very bad shape, because they are too far away or were prevented from coming. Some died on the way.″

Fresard quoted some refugees as saying the communist guerrillas made them leave close relatives behind, to ensure their return, when they went to the U.N. camps for treatment.

Many former residents of the hidden camps, however, have been allowed to resettle in U.N.-aided Khmer Rouge camps like Site 8, Site K and O’trao.

Other Cambodians arrive from other parts of the country, fleeing government conscription or seeking relatives. About 63,000 refugees now live in U.N.-aided Khmer Rouge camps, where they receive food, medical care and education.

Thousands of other civilians in Khmer Rouge zones visit the camps for medical treatment, to see relatives or to put their children in school.

In rural areas controlled by non-communist guerrillas, rebel leaders have embarked on a U.S.-financed development program, building village schools, hospitals and supplying new machinery to farmers.

A Western diplomat said, on condition of anonymity, that the mentality behind the hidden Khmer Rouge camps was slowly eroding, mostly through efforts of the U.N. Border Relief Operation.

″The Khmer Rouge want education,″ he said. ″They even steal UNBRO textbooks. Before, they didn’t want to touch anything. They know they cannot be isolated, cannot live by themselves.″

Zones controlled by the Khmer Rouge are among the most malarial in the world. Hospitals in the U.N.-aided camps have treated a dramatically higher number of people in recent months.

Seng Sok, a Khmer Rouge official at Site 8, said the guerrilla zones had enough food, but were short of medicine.

Some of the malaria patients, he said, were Cambodians who could reach U.N. camps for the first time because the guerrillas had expanded their territory. He said some people were trucked from up to 30 miles away by arrangement with Thai authorities.

Young victims of malaria filled the hospital during a recent visit to Site 8, on the southern stretch of Thai-Cambodian border.

Pei Ek, 5, lay still on a bamboo-slat bed, an intravenous tube in his arm, struggling to chew a biscuit. His father, a food porter for the Khmer Rouge, carried the boy through the jungle for 1 1/2 days after the guerrillas granted his request for treatment at Site 8.

Khmer Rouge guerrillas have seized areas with rich soil, timber, and gem and gold mines, the Western diplomat said, but it is unclear what share of those resources are available to civilians. He said security was not a major concern because battle lines are well beyond the refugee settlements.

The largest reported concentration of people is at Anlong Veng, a collection of villages that is opposite O’trao and just over a mountain.

Gary Knight, a British photographer who was there in December, said many soldiers at Anlong Veng were missing legs from land mines or had severe malaria, but that civilians appeared healthy. He said there were many cattle, banana trees, vegetable plots and at least one hospital.

Most people who later lived in the hidden camps reached Thailand in 1979-80, as the Khmer Rouge retreated from the Vietnamese invasion that ended their brutal 3 1/2 years of rule over Cambodia.

The diplomat said the Khmer Rouge brought some to Thailand by force, but most were people who had been in Khmer Rouge areas for years and were not as abused as others by the regime. After the Vietnamese invasion, they were marked as Khmer Rouge supporters.

According to the diplomat, most of the people ″came because they were alienated by other groups. They couldn’t stay in their villages and they couldn’t go to the non-communists because the non-communists wouldn’t receive them.″

He said the refugees had two basic functions in the Khmer Rouge scheme: fighting and portering for fighters.

Guerrilla abuses reported in the camps included making children carry arms through mined areas and not letting critically ill people go to outside hospitals. Defectors from some camps described underground prisons, restraints on marriage and religion and bans on contact with the outside world.

The first break in the system was the opening of Site 8 in 1985, after a Vietnamese offensive emptied the old border refugee camps.

In 1988-89, in response to strong outside pressure, the Khmer Rouge allowed Site K and O’trao to open as U.N.-aided facilities and moved thousands of people in from the hidden camps.

Site 8 now is more democratic than camps of the two non-communist guerrilla groups. Site K and O’trao have opened up significantly, but some strict rules remain. Site K authorities, for example, will allow refugee identification photos only if they take the pictures themselves and keep the negatives.

Some officials fear the refugees in the border camps will be moved into Cambodia before a peace settlement is reached between the guerrilla coalition and the government in Phnom Penh.

Thailand’s military, angered by security problems, announced in January that O’trao would be closed in about three months. It did not say what would happen to the refugees living there.

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