The rows of thatch huts are intact. Huge metal water tanks installed by foreign relief agencies have not been damaged. But there is only a handful of people to use them. Camp 007, until last week probably the largest concentration of Cambodians anywhere, has become an eerily silent ghost town.
Nine days ago, automatic weapons fire erupted in the refugee settlement's dusty throughfares. Its people believed to number over 200,000, scattered into the jungle in panic, leaving a city reminiscent of Phnom Penh after the Khner Rouge captured and emptied it in 1975.
One week later they had started to trickle back to 007, but there are no guarantees of their safety.
For months refugee workers had feared 007, located in disputed territory along that Thai-Cambodian frontier, would be attacked by Vietnamese forces deployed to support the year-old Heng Samrin government in Cambodia. However, the Jan. 4 gunbattle was Cambodian against Cambodian; it was the result of a deeply rooted feud among rival resistance groups, all of which claim to rank the Vietnamese as their first enemy.
Camp 007 was headquarters for one of many Khmer Serei (Free Khmer) "liberation movements" that Cambodian anticommunists have formed in the past year. Armed mostly with Chinese-made rifles, the ragged bands of rightist guerrillas exercise despotic control over some half a million refugees who have massed along the frontier.
One hundred people -- mostly civilians -- were believed killed or wounded in the fighting nine days ago. Relief workers complained that three months of work to improve conditions in 007 had been wiped out in a few hours.
The incident underlined the precarious security of the border no-man's-land, where refugees live under the guns of four separate armies -- Vietnamese, Thai, Khmer Rouge and Khmer Serei. It also appeared to support contentions that the Khmer Serei are too faction-ridden and concerned with making money to play any significant role on Combodian battlefields.
Fighting continued after Jan. 4. Two days later, this reporter drove down the camp's deserted access highway, built by foreign relief agencies, but was turned back at the camp's edge by heavily armed Khmer Serei.
After 20 minutes a deafening gunbattle broke out, apparently inside the deserted camp itself. Throughout the after noon, soldiers discharged thousands of rounds of ammunition and hundreds of grenades.
It is unclear how and why the first day's fighting began. But interviews with eyewitnesses indicated it was the culmination of months of bizarre and complex feuding among the rival groups arrayed along a 20-mile strip of border north of the Thai town of Aranyaprathet.
Five major Cambodian factions are discernible in the strip. Together with half a million refugees, they are sandwiched between the Thai Army to the west and the Vietnamese to the east. Farthest south is Camp 204, a shantytown of around 200,000 people commanded by Van Saren, a slight, 53-year-old man who once smuggled timber. He now calls himself "marshal."
About four miles to the north is 007, believed to have been slightly larger than 204. Its leader in Sakhon claims to have been an officer in the American-supported Lon Nol army defeated in 1975. Then comes a camp run by guerrillas who call themselves communists but who sometimes operate independently of the ousted Khmer Rouge regime. It is called Phnom Chat and is four miles north of 007.
Farther north again is a Khmer Serei movement directed by Son Sann, prime minister of Cambodia in the 1960s. Finally, operating up and down the border strip is yet another Serei band, this one headed by one-time naval officer Kong Sileah. Loyal to former Cambodian leader Prince Norodom Silhanouk, Kong Sileah's forces have clashed repeatedly with the Thai Army and now move their base camps constantly.
The latest violence apparently stemmed from 007's recent decision to cooperate with the Khmer Rouge at Phnom Chat. In past months, black-suited communist soldiers could be seen buying food in 007's dusty markets and there was talk of joint patrols against the Vietnamese.
This infuriated leaders at Camp 204 to the south, who refuse to deal with Khmer Fouge. Emissaries were sent to 007, it is said, to give warning to expel the Khmer Rouge or face attack from 204. Because of such threats, and because relations with the Khmer Rouge were deteriorating on their own, 007 arrested 16 communist soldiers eight days ago. Rumors circulated they had all been shot.
The next morning several hundred Khmer Rouge entered 007 -- some reports say unidentified Khmer Serei troops accompanied them -- and attacked troop bunkers inside. Camp 007 sent a plea for help to 204, which dispatched a force of its own to the scene.
However, 204 appears to have used 007's troubles to annex it. The rescue force from 204 opened fire on civilians, then withdrew to the edge of the camp and lazily launched rockets into the huts. "They randomly sprayed whatever the hell moved," said an American doctor who was caught in the camp during the attack.
People streamed out in panic.Most were herded south towards 204, where today they have set up shelters outside the camp's perimeter. As a result, Camp 204's leaders now have more people to tax and more men to recruit as soldiers. More international rice will flow in, much of which will be seized by the 204 authorities and sold to hungry people.
This camp had already emerged as the most aggressive of the lot. In December, its soldiers pillaged a nearby site run by the pro-Sihanouk force. The apparent reason: the Sihanouk loyalists were passing out rice free to anyone who came, driving down the income that 204 derived from selling it.
For months refugee agencies have recognized that the border camps are potentially explosive. Last fall the U.N. and the Thai government conceived a plan to move refugees away from the frontier to safer sites deep inside Thai territory.
One new camp -- Khao I Dang -- was established to receive them. But due to intimidation from the Khmer Serei and the widespread belief that everyone at the new camp was a Thai Prisoner, most refugees stayed put at the border.
Relief agencies than shifted their attention to proposals to create "safe havens" around the border camps themselves. Thailand formally proposed that U.N. officers take control of the camps.
The U.N. has not formally responded. In the meantime, many groups that work with refugees, including the U.S. Embassy, have quietly encouraged foreign agencies to increase their presence in the border camps so that an international zone would be created in effect, if not name.
Living standards in the camps would rise, it was felt, but perhaps more importantly, the foreigners' presence would provide a measure of security by assuring that any attack would be highly publicized. At 007 foreigners were becoming more active -- Red Cross and privately funded groups were running clinics in the camp -- when the Jan. 4 shooting began.
But the threat was not from the Vietnamese, as most foreign officials had expected. Angry relief workers later sought out 204's Marshal Van Saren and warned him the world might not continue to feed Cambodians if they were battling each other.
Next week, Sir Robert Jackson, a special representative of U.N. Secretary General Kurt Waldheim, is due in Bangkok for talks on the refugee situation. Thailand is expected to push him on its request for a greater U.N. role in the border settlements. In the meantime, relief workers are trying to get food and shelter materials to the thousands driven from 007.