Newspaper section: News
Silence enshrouds border villages in Surin, now left with empty houses and a few dogs and chickens to brace for the only punctuation of time _ gunshots.
A village defence volunteer scans the almost deserted neighbourhood of Ban Nong Khanna in Surin’s Phanom Dong Rak district after residents fled the border conflict. TAWATCHAI KEMGUMNERD
If anybody travels along the roads leading to the remote villages at the Thai-Cambodian border near Prasat, Phanom Dong Rak and Kap Choeng districts, they have to ask themselves, amid the air of desolation: ''Where have all the people gone?''
The Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Department yesterday announced that 44 evacuation centres have been set up so far _ 35 in Surin and nine in Buri Ram.
In Surin, about 40,400 people have already been relocated while in neighbouring Buri Ram, 7,800 people have had to leave their home towns.
Villagers in Kap Choeng, whose villages are nearest Cambodia, have all gone. The government told them to evacuate because Cambodia reportedly fired Russian-made BM-21 rockets, PM's Office Minister Ong-art Klampaiboon said.
''Some dropped in villages,'' he added. Banyong Thongsisuk, of Ban Khoen Kaew Moo 13 in tambon Kap Choeng, is among newcomers at a camp in Kap Choeng district opened by the government.
''Now it's all the same in every village. No one dares to enter, especially at night,'' he said.
He recalled a shell attack on a house of his neighbour one evening, the final straw that forced him and his family out of the village.
''As he was going to eat dinner, the shell fell on his house. He was killed,'' Mr Banyong said.
Villagers in Phanom Dong Rak district also bore the brunt of the conflict.
While a few people who volunteered to guard their areas were given guns to defend themselves, the weapons could not always ensure them of safety.
''When we heard gunfire, we ran to find places to shelter, jumping in different directions,'' said Prasit Yingchoedngam, a member of a village defence volunteer team at Ban Nong Khanna Moo 4 in Phanom Dong Rak.
In Kap Choeng hospital, the wards are also deadly quiet.
The government has now decided to temporarily close the frontline hospital, relocating all patients and medical staff to Prasat hospital because it also faces rocket attacks.
''I don't know when the fighting will end. Nobody here knows when it will end. The people have fled and now even animals are leaving the villages,'' Mr Banyong said.
''No one can live there. They don't want to die.''