Volume 3 Number 3
In the Cambodian Camps
01 March 1990

Apart from Phnom Penh, more Cambodians live in Site 2, a refugee camp just inside the Thai border, than in any other settlement in the world.

Apart from Phnom Penh, more Cambodians live in Site 2, a refugee camp just inside the Thai border, than in any other settlement in the world. The camp is controlled by the Khmer People's National Liberation Front (KPNLF), one of the groups who have been fighting the Vietnamese occupation of their country and the Vietnambacked Hun Sen government.

Last December an international group drawn together by Moral Re-Armament gave training programmes in Site 2 and other refugee camps. They were invited by Son Sann, President of the KPNLF, and his son and international affairs advisor, Son Soubert.

`Cambodian society, including its religion, was destroyed first under the Khmer Rouge, then under the Vietnamese,' explained Son Soubert. `How shall we rebuild the country if we have no sense of right and wrong and no character training? The Cambodians would be an easy prey to corruption and every kind of temptation. We must avoid falling once more into the mistakes of the past.'

A crowd of 300 received the visitors to Site 2 in a bamboo hall decked with streamers. They were welcomed by leng Mouly, Secretary General of the KPNLF, and Lay Khek, administrator of the camp.

Education is a top priority in the camp, where more than half the population is under 18 years old. Only primary schools get government support, but with help from charities a technical school and a school for public administration have been started. The group met many secondary school teachers and pupils.

`My strongest impression was of their thirst for knowledge and for life - even though they had suffered so much,' says one of the visitors, Christine Jaulmes from France. `One boy, for instance, did not know whether he should continue his studies or get work, so that he could help support his large family. Everyone wanted to talk at once.'

The group went on to Sokh Sann, another camp further to the south. Son Soubert described a previous visit when he had been caught in a bombing raid and gained courage from the camp's orphans. `Paralysed with fear, I couldn't move. But when I saw there were other people to look after, I lost all fear.'

`Back in France, I cannot forget those faces and those smiles,' says Christine Jaulmes. `There was a little boy who gave me his photo saying he had no family. Another told us that his parents were dead and he had even forgotten what they looked like.

`As we left we promised not to forget them and to speak of their fighting spirit in the face of every difficulty. We also shared with them our dream -that thousands of Cambodians, having endured the Khmer Rouge and Vietnamese dictatorships, would decide to live under the dictatorship of their conscience. This might be Cambodia's road to peace.'