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Villagers flee border clashes

Catholic school sheltering civilians from fighting between Thai, Cambodian troops

Cambodian farmers at work  (File photo) Cambodian farmers at work (File photo)
  • Panithan Kitsakul, Bangkok
  • Thailand
  • February 7, 2011
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Terrified villagers fleeing deadly clashes between Thai and Cambodian troops in a disputed border area near Kantharalak, Si Saket province have taken refuge in a nearby Catholic school.

“St. Peter’s Church in Kantaluk is only 10 kilometers from the border and is in the line of fire. We have helped move villagers from the area to Marie Upatham School, where it is safe,” Bishop Banjong Chaiyara of Ubon Ratchathani said yesterday.

“We are also providing them with food and basic needs,” said the bishop.

At least five people have died since the clashes began on  February 4 around the disputed 11th century Preah Vihear temple, which Cambodia says has been damaged in the fighting.

“We never thought the situation would worsen like this. What we can do now is follow the situation closely and provide basic support,” Bishop Banjong said.

“However if the fighting continues, we may have to come up with a more long-term plan to support villagers. Right now, we invite all to pray for an end to this conflict,” the bishop told ucanews.com.

He said he aimed to visit the villagers at the school today as well as the conflict zone to assess the situation.

Sister Udorn Ahsasuk, director of Marie Upatham School, said the school is providing refuge for about 40 villagers, all Buddhists, and has closed the school to students until the situation returns to normal.

“There is firing from time to time. Villagers are very concerned about their safety,” the sister said.

Meanwhile, Thai Missionary Society chief Father Adriano Pelosi says 10 Thai missioners – three priests and seven nuns -- working in Cambodia have not been affected by the fighting.

“Our missioners are being treated warmly by Cambodians. This situation is a political game between two countries. Normally Thais and Cambodians live together peacefully, especially along the border,” the PIME priest said.

He urged both governments to end hostilities.

“Civilians are the victims of this conflict,” he asserted.

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