Exodus swells as Cambodia is condemned

Hundreds of expatriates converged on Phnom Penh airport yesterday, as more nations decided to evacuate their citizens from Cambodia after last weekend's coup.

The airfield, scene of a dramatic airlift of foreign nationals fleeing the Khmer Rouge in 1975, was the focus of intense fighting just under a week ago between rival government factions, littering the runway tarmac with debris.

Asbestos shards and rubble crunched under the feet of a long line of British, Canadian and American evacuees as they dragged their suitcases, and what belongings they could salvage, past the gutted terminal buildings towards three Malaysian Air Force cargo aircraft.

Empty boxes and broken bottles from duty-free cognac and French perfume, looted by the forces of each side, clung to nearby bushes and added a pungent piquancy to the scene, their odours mingling with the fading smell of gunsmoke.

The exodus, which has gained momentum over the past few days, has been given further impetus by a hardening of international condemnation of the coup which ousted the country's First Prime Minister, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, and which established his former coalition partner, Hun Sen, formerly Second Prime Minister, as the unchallenged power in Cambodia.

At an emergency meeting in Malaysia yesterday, member states of the region's economic bloc, the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) postponed Cambodia's membership, scheduled for later this month. This is a serious diplomatic rebuke for Hun Sen, but he has remained defiant, warning the international community and Asean to keep out of Cambodia's internal affairs.

In Washington, the State Department has called on Hun Sen to reverse his bid for power and to acknowledge Prince Ranariddh, who is canvassing US support in New York, as the senior Cambodian leader. Hun Sen has rejected the call.

United States marines are expected to fly in later today to supervise a full-scale withdrawal of American nationals, although this also is more a diplomatic reprimand at this stage than an expression of true fears for the Americans' safety.

More than 450 Britons are being advised by the Foreign Office to take the first available flights out of the country. Most will fly from Phnom Penh, leaving behind them a city scarred by the fighting. On the outskirts of the city, factories which were last week producing rubber components for export now lie burnt out, or shattered by heavy mortars and shoulder- launched B-40 rockets.

Prince Ranariddh's family home, said to contain priceless antiquities from the ancient Angkor Wat temple complex, has been all but destroyed. The city offices of his Funcinpec political group were torn apart by the troops of Hun Sen's former communist Cambodian Peoples' Party. The fragments lie strewn across bloodstained roads outside the building, a reminder of the more than 50 people killed in the coup.

Hun Sen's soldiers, who just four nights earlier were looting shops and offices across the city, now roar through the pot-holed streets on powerful motorcycles, toting heavy machine guns and rocket launchers. During the fighting, fridges, cookers and other electrical goods were carried out through smashed shop windows. Car showrooms were emptied: gleaming red Toyotas or Mitsubishis can be seen crawling, incongruously, through the cycle-rickshaws and decrepit scooters that make up most of Phnom Penh's traffic.

But fires are no longer burning on the streets of the capital and the thousands of residents who fled the violence last week have mostly returned.

The looted goods are appearing in markets at prices within the reach of many more than could previously have afforded luxury items such as televisions and toasters. One man said he could now buy a new motorbike for just $100.

"We cannot stop and think about our situation for too long," says Kim Sok, a grocery stall-holder, "we have to put down our heads and work on to live, no matter what is going on around us."

The feeling, shared by most people in this beleagured country, devastated by nearly 25 years of incessant war, is that events are beyond their control.

Cambodians could not prevent America from dropping its bombs in the early Seventies, leaving as many as 400,000 dead. Nor did they largely support the brutal Khmer Rouge regime, led by the dictator Pol Pot, during which an estimated 2 million of their countrymen were killed.

The elections of 1993, sponsored by the United Nations, gave Cambodians their first real say in the running of their own country. Now even that result - always resented by the loser, Hun Sen - has been overruled.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Arts and Entertainment
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths
Life and Style
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
Amazon misled consumers about subscription fees, the ASA has ruled
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company has won the award ...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 business...

SThree: Trainee Recuitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 business...

Recruitment Genius: Lettings and Sales Negotiator - OTE £46,000

£16000 - £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn