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Wrecked Homes Stir Anger on a Quiet Front

The knocked-down houses of five families near the former Khmer Rouge stronghold of Anlong Veng speak to the quiet consequences of a stubborn military standoff well into its 11th week.

Far from the Preah Vihear starting point of the standoff, families along the border in Oddar Meanchey province have seen their small homes destroyed by Thai troops.

"Some of [the soldiers] came with knives and axes, and with guns," said one woman, who spoke anonymously. "I wanted to enter my house to pick up some clothes and other things. They said to me, 'pai, pai'"—go, go—"and they pointed their weapons at me. Other people wanted to take a photo, and they pointed their weapons at them too."

Two families were former Khmer Rouge; three families had breadwinners working as porters, moving goods back and forth between Thailand and Cambodia. All of the families said they were settled in their small wooden homes near the border when the standoff began July 15, 100 kilometers to the east.

During the height of the standoff, some Anlong Veng villagers fled the area. They are back now, but villagers still worry about the unresolved situation.

"I think this is Cambodian territory, and this is the heritage of Cambodia. If we leave, that means the Thais will continue to enter," said the woman, the mother of two children and who works as a porter at the Choam Srangam border crossing in Anglong Veng.

The destruction of the homes, on Sept. 15, sparked no conflict between the hundreds of Thai and Cambodian soldiers that had already been deployed to the area.

"Around 500 Thai soldiers were deployed in this area, and after [the destruction] I saw 200 more," said a Cambodian soldier on the border who spoke on condition of anonymity. "That means they are more than Cambodian forces. They are deployed some in the front and some four or five kilometers from the front."

Cambodian soldiers said they were outnumbered by the Thais but remained committed to protecting this small patch of jungle, where dense forest limits visibility but where small groups of Thai soldiers appear, occasionally, in the distance.

Villager Pan Deun said he had seen Thai soldiers hiding in the forest, some times more than others, and had seen a "large canon," or artillery, pulled by military truck in Thai territory.

Cambodian troops were posted in the forest along the border as well, but here, in an area without temples, the deployment is quieter than at Ta Moan and Ta Krabey temples, farther to the west.

"Thai soldiers do a rotation and patrol regularly," said Capt. Pen Sameoun, of Border Unit 403, near Anglong Veng. "They make some things complicated, abusing Cambodian territory. But we can talk and settle things."