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Cambodians flee Phnom Penh, fed up with premiers feuds

July 6, 1997

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) _ Skirting mortars and automatic weapons fire, hundreds of Cambodians fled Sunday to the mud flats of the Tonle Sap River to board rickety ferries.

Meas Vanna was among those lined up waiting to reach an island of restaurants and nightclubs where the capital’s elite often spend the evening. She had a small motorcycle, three bags of essentials and her 4-month-old baby.

``A shell hit one of the homes next to mine and it caught fire,″ the 32-year-old woman said. ``I don’t know who is right and wrong, so I don’t know who to be angry with.″

Thousands of others caught in the second day of crossfire between forces loyal to their warring prime ministers tried to flee the Phnom Penh on foot or small motorcycles. Those who stayed huddled in their homes.

Armored personnel carriers rumbled down bullet-raked streets that were blocked off to civilian vehicles. Shops were closed as well as gas stations, the source of fuel for tiny generators that provide many with electricity.

Second Premier Hun Sen claims his coup attempt against co-premier Prince Norodom Ranariddh was a pre-emptive strike. The prince, according to Hun Sen, secretly assembled an illegal force of former Khmer Rouge guerrillas to move against him. Ranariddh was out of the country when the fighting began.

Most ordinary Cambodians, who have endured civil war and terror for decades, don’t care who started the fighting. They just want it to stop.

``I’m fed up,″ said Sok Vy, 25, a mother of three who lives close to the National Assembly, shut down for months by bickering between the premiers. ``It’s more than frightening.″

Sok Vy packed her family’s meager belongings Sunday and was looking for a way out of town.

Long Sou, 31, was fleeing south with his family. His three children and 60-year-old mother were loaded into a tricycle rickshaw that he pushed slowly down the road.

About 100 of their neighbors had fled their homes earlier in the day, when mortar rounds landed in the neighborhood.

Long Sou’s family had a pound of rice left. That would be dinner, and then there would be nothing.

``I don’t care whose political dispute this is,″ Long Sou said. ``I do care when there is fighting and shelling.″

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