Cambodian refugees are pouring into Thailand as the fighting in their country gives them new opportunities to escape the brutal Khmer Rouge.
In five days, more than 1,400 people, mostly women, children and old men crossed the border near here and were brought to a fenced field near a temple.
The stories related by the refugees indicated that forces loyal to the ousted government of Pol Pot have not changed their burtal treatment of real or suspected political opponents. Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge, who were forced to flee to the countryside following a Vietnamese-led invasion last January, have been credited with an exceptionally cruel rule that caused the deaths of an estimated 3 million Cambodians.
The new arrivals are being treated as illegal immigrants by Thai authorities who are suspicious that Khmer Rouge soldiers may be among them. They also worry that the new influx will swap available refugee facilities.
Most of the estimated 5,000 Cambodians who have fled since January are being kept separate from the 15,000 already in more permanent camps, some of who have been in Thailand for almost four years since the Khmer Rouge defeated the U.S.-backed Lon Nol government in April, 1975.
In both the old and new camps there is the daily search for information about husbands, wives and children who fled separately, sometimes years ago.
One young woman -- nursing her son under a thatch and bamboo shelter that has been thrown up since the field was turned into a camp five days ago -- arrived Friday and learned the next day that her husband was dead.
He attempted to flee last year, Khean khoeum said, but was killed by Khmer Rouge guards near the border. She had met one of the men who accompanied her husband and made it to Thailand.
For the past two years only men have had a chance to escape, the refugees say, because they were working away from the villages and were sometimes left unguarded.
In response to the Vietnamese invasion that toppled the Khmer Rouge government and has forced its troops into the countryside where they are mounting a guerrilla resistance, large groups of people are finding chances to escape.
Most of the refugees who arrived here in the last week tell similar stories.
When the Vietnamese troops approached, the Khmer Rouge ordered everyone into the forests. Anyone who stayed in the village or tried to contact the invaders would be killed, the Khmer Rouge announced.
But there was no food in the forests and the Khmer Rouge gave the people nothing to eat. Often, the soldiers left the villagers alone and large groups made joint decisions to escape.
In some cases they have been guided to the border by men who take the risk of entering Cambodia to find family and friends and show them safe routes to Thailand.
Not all the hazards the refugees face are from the Khmer Rouge.
Thailand's military authorities have sought in some areas to turn back those who flee, sometimes shooting them as they approach the border, according to well-mformed sources.
Refugees here tell of groups that made it safely to Thailand only to be pushed back into Cambodia where the Pol Pot soldiers have killed them. "This is what happens to people who try to escape," is the message from the Khmer Rouge.
The Thais also strip arrivals of anything of value they have managed to hide from the Khmer Rouge for years and bring with them.
The new arrivals in the field here have nothing.Many are dressed in clothes handed to them after their arrival, including a scattering of T-shirts reading "Jesus cares" provided by Christian missionaries.
Anemia is widespread and many suffer from parasites. Women arriving with malnourished children tell of other children who died recently. Doctors have found beri-beri and other diseases among the refugees.
When asked to describe their lives under the Khmer Rouge the recent arrivals speak first of hunger and unending labor. Only when pressed do they describe executions and the disappearance of people into the forest with the Khmer Rouge never to be seen again.
Thailand's efforts to stop Khmer refugees stem from several causes. This country is already strained by close to 150,000 Indochina refugees -- Laotian, Vietnamese and Khmer -- living in 15 camps and each new arrival adds to its problems.
In the last year the number of people in the camps increased 48 percent. Prime Minister Kriangsak Chamamand warned last week that more than 20,000 Khmers might arrive in the near future.
The Thais and Khmers traditionally are hostile and along the border several Thai villages were attacked by Khmer Rouge during the last four years. The Thai villagers here are fearful of new attacks and also are jealous of efforts to spend money on refugees when they themselves are poor.
The Thais are also suspicious that Khmer Rouge scidiers may be among the refugees and want to screen them before allowing officials of the U.N. High Commissioner on Refugees to take over the care of the new arrivals as they do for the others at established camps.
At first, all the new Khmer refugees were taken quickly to Trat, in the extreme southeast, where they are closely guarded. Refugee officials have no access to the camp and no information on how they are being cared for at Trat.
The bamboo shelters here also officially are off-limits to foreigners. They are only necessary because Trat is full beyond capacity with an estimated 2,000 people.