Thursday, February 10, 2011

Cambodia-Thailand: 30,000 displaced, many unable to find adequate shelter or tents

BANGKOK, 9 February 2011 (IRIN) - NGOs working along the Thai-Cambodian border are monitoring clashes between the two countries near a disputed temple and are extremely concerned about the reported displacement of up to 30,000 people.

"We have evacuated our staff and are preparing to assist those who have fled the area," Agneta Dau Valler, country representative of Church World Service Cambodia, which has field staff living in villages in Choam Khsant District, where the disputed Preah Vihear temple is located, told IRIN.

An estimated 15,000 people on the Thai side of the border have "fled to makeshift shelters and other villages away from the range of fire," said Amnat Barlee, director of the Thai Red Cross's Relief and Community Health Bureau, while Cambodian Red Cross officials estimate the displacement of a similar number on their side of the border.

Renewed border clashes on 4 February over ownership of the 11th century Hindu temple, a 2008-registered UN World Heritage Site, were continuing on 8 February.

As of 9 February, no civilians on the Cambodia side had been reported dead or injured. However, Thai media said one civilian and two soldiers had been killed.

One day earlier, Thailand's official news agency, MCOT, reported 25 people injured in fighting, prompting thousands to flee their homes.

Many of the displaced are unable to find adequate shelter or tents, aid officials say.

"People staying in temples and schools do not have adequate access to water, and children cannot attend school," Ross Soeann, deputy secretary-general of the Cambodian government's National Committee for Disaster Management, said.

"We are concerned because everything depends on the military and up to now we have no news of any ceasefire agreement. We have to ensure the safety and health of the displaced people but we do not have adequate shelters - only plastic sheeting," Soeann said.

"If the situation prolongs, we must prepare camps to manage the situation," he added.

"World Vision is monitoring the situation continuously. The safety of staff is non-negotiable," Renate Janse van Vuuren, a spokeswoman for World Vision Foundation Thailand, said.

UN ready to help

Earlier this week, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged both countries to "exercise maximum restraint" to end the fighting and engage in peaceful dialogue.

The UN has reiterated its readiness to assist in peaceful efforts to resolve the dispute, which first gained international attention in July 2008, following a build-up of military forces near the temple.

Phnom Post has repeatedly called on the UN to intervene, while Bangkok insists the issue be handled bilaterally.

According to Thai media reports on 9 February, Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya had spoken to his Cambodian counterpart Hor Namhong and they have agreed to hold talks in a third country.

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