Si Sa Ket, Thailand Friday, 11 February 2011
Photo: VOA – D. Schearf
Border clashes have left thousands of villagers homeless from Thai-Cambodia border area.
"Fortunately, the children were not in the buildings and nobody was injured.
Border clashes between Thailand and Cambodia have stopped for now and their political leaders are set to hold talks Monday at the United Nations. The fighting near a disputed border area was the worst in years, killing several on both sides and sending thousands fleeing for safety. Villagers have yet to return home and many in Thailand urge the government to resolve the dispute so life can return to normal.
Thousands of villagers fled the Thai-Cambodia border after their militaries exchanged artillery and machine gun fire a week ago.
Many Cambodian villagers took refuge in Siem Reap, while Thais moved to camps several kilometers away from the border.
Sodsri Phahom returned to her home in Phum Srol district briefly, for her husband's funeral. She says when the shells hit she and her niece ran for the trees while her husband took cover in a ditch. He was decapitated by shrapnel. Now she has to care for the farm and their five children on her own.
She says they are in deep trouble because they are poor. She says since her husband died they have no money left. She blames the Thai government for not being able to keep peace with Cambodia.
A week after fighting broke out, villages along the border remain empty and schools closed. Many houses here were damaged or destroyed.
Workers at Phum Srol Wittaya school sweep up outside a one-story building. The classroom walls and ceilings are blown out and the children's desks are covered with debris.
The main school building next to it has a massive hole in the roof. Fortunately, the children were not in the buildings and nobody was injured.
School Director Pramoon Sawangpon says classes are scheduled to resume Monday though he is not comfortable with the idea.
He says personally, right now, he cannot conclude whether to stop or continue classes because they are still waiting. He says he is not sure that it will be safe because fighting can happen any time.
The clashes erupted near disputed territory surrounding a 900-year-old Hindu Khmer temple known as Preah Vihear in Cambodia and Phra Viharn in Thailand.
Both sides blame the other for starting the fighting. Armed volunteers helped evacuate 3,000 people and remain behind to guard homes.
Defense leader Boonkerd Tae Tong says they have always had good relations with Cambodians, who he calls part of their community. He blames politics for the dispute particularly because two rival Thai groups, known as the red shirts and the yellow shirts, have used the border issue to gain support.
He says it probably started in 2008 when yellow and red shirt groups came here. He says since then, along the border, they are never happy with either trade or livelihoods. He says they have border tensions continuously.
Civilians and journalists are not allowed to enter the temple area and the border remains tense with militaries on both sides preparing for any further confrontation.