|Country Report Cambodia - ICRC Worldwide Consultation on the Rules of War (International Committee of the Red Cross , 1999, 72 p.)|
|Breakdown of limits|
Chaos is a natural and often deadly part of war - a tangle of residents flees a city under siege; friendly fire wipes out an allied unit; villagers under artillery attack scatter into a minefield. In guerrilla warfare, chaos combines with intentional attempts by combatants to hide themselves among peaceful residents in order to escape the enemy. The result is combustible. Casualties multiply and, as time passes, the deaths of civilians gradually become an acceptable, if terrible, fact of war.
In Cambodia, chaos - both intentional (e.g., the 1975 Khmer Rouge evacuation of the cities) and unintentional (e.g., the 1997 Phnom Penh street riots that turned into pitched battles) - has been a critical player in the suffering endured by civilians.
Those who have been caught in the crossfire describe scenes in which anxious combatants combine with terrified civilians to produce confusion and random death. Combatants and civilians give reports of confused and nervous fighters who feel disturbed by the civilians and lose [their] sense and feel agitated. (IDI, male mine victim, Battambang; FG, female urban youth, Phnom Penh; IDI, deminer, Phnom Penh) Recalling harrowing moments, older women tell of soldiers who just shoot around or are shooting randomly in the market. (FG, female market stall vendors, Phnom Penh; FG, female single heads of household, Phnom Penh) Wielding a weapon in battle or supporting a particular faction does not seem to bear any relation to ones fate. 30
30 In fact, 71 per cent of combatants report having experienced six or more negative consequences of war, compared with 60 per cent of non-combatants. Similarly, 70 per cent of those who report having supported a side in the war say they experienced six or more negative consequences, compared with 59 per cent of those who say they were non-partisan.
In almost every focus group and in-depth interview, participants commented on the difficulty of distinguishing between civilians and combatants, particularly when Khmers fought Khmers. In such an atmosphere, they agreed, civilian casualties became inevitable.
The war in Cambodia was... not the war of patriotism. It was the war of grabbing power. They [soldiers] didnt want to kill the civilians, but the other side was mixed with the civilians. So they can be killed; there was no option. There is no distinction [between soldiers and civilians in this type of war]. (IDI, government official, Phnom Penh)
[When there is] fighting between soldiers and soldiers in the same country, we all look almost the same... If we attack a village, we cannot see who are soldiers, who are the soldiers wives, and who are the real civilians. (FG, female urban youth, Phnom Penh)
In a war, I think, touching and harming is inevitable.
In a war, there is usually chaos, therefore harm to civilians cannot be avoided...
This [attack on civilians] is something that cannot be avoided sometimes. People live everywhere.
People cannot move on time when the war occurs. Sometimes the civilians are running back and forth in front of the soldiers, and when the soldiers are disturbed they shoot...
It cannot be avoided.
(FG, female urban youth, Phnom Penh)
One of the most interesting aspects of these discussions was the almost eerily uniform words that both civilians and combatants used to explain away the behaviour of soldiers and fighters.
Sometimes it was not on purpose [that soldiers attacked civilians], because people were running through bullets, when the [government] soldiers were fighting with the Khmer Rouge. Sometimes the bullets [or shells] just dropped in the bunker where people were hiding. (FG, male rural youth, Battambang)
The civilians are running in front of the bullets. It was not [the soldiers] intention [to shoot them]...
It cannot be avoided during fighting.
(FG, female single heads of household, Phnom Penh)
The main objective in fighting is soldiers against soldiers either in the forest or in the villages. Therefore the harm to civilians is inevitable. Each side is fighting to win and occupy the target area.
I agree [that attacks on civilians are inevitable] because bullets dont have eyes, we dont have intention [to kill the civilians].
(FG, former Khmer Rouge fighters, Malai)
...in the fighting the bullets have no eyes. (IDI, male rural high school student, Kompong Speu)
They want to attack the soldier but they missed the target.
They want to prevent [people] from daring to join the army.
The bullet has no eyes, so sometimes it hits the people. They [soldiers and fighters] dont want to attack civilians.
(FG, female returnees, Malai)
While one woman noted a lack of attention on monitoring the attacks on civilians, most participants bent over backwards to excuse the actions of combatants who killed civilians. (FG, female single heads of household, Phnom Penh) While a few participants appeared to be motivated by a desire to avoid placing blame, more seemed to genuinely believe that the chaos of battle combined with inexperienced combatants to leave civilians exposed to harm.