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30 summer workers evacuate Cambodia, headed for home

BANGKOK, Thailand (BP)–Thirty Southern Baptist summer workers fled an intense street war in Cambodia July 9 and were to catch a commercial flight from Bangkok, Thailand, to Los Angeles July 11. The group had planned to teach conversational English in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, during the summer.
The summer workers, students at universities in the United States, were able to catch the first Red Cross flight out of Cambodia. They are to return to their homes and are not expected to go back into Cambodia.
With the student workers came four families assigned to the Southern Baptist organization Cooperative Services International, which organized the English teaching jobs. Another CSI family, living outside of Phnom Penh, were not expected to get out of the country until July 11.
The students sought safety in the home of CSI workers Steve and Patti Ellis July 5 after troops of rival prime ministers squared off against each other with mortar and machine gun fire in Phnom Penh.
Fighting raged five blocks from the Ellis home, and the sounds of gunfire and mortar blasts echoed through the neighborhood.
The university students arrived July 3 and had just begun to familiarize themselves with Phnom Penh when they were forced to leave their hotels and move in with the Ellises. Steve Ellis has not yet returned to Cambodia from a trip to the United States with the president of the Cambodia Baptist Convention after the pair spoke June 11 at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Dallas.
Nearly half of the summer workers’ group were students of Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee. “We are immensely proud of these OBU representatives,” said OBU President Bob R. Agee. “They knew of the risk involved due to escalating tensions in Cambodia, yet they were willing to sacrifice their time and personal comfort to work with Cambodian students.”
Weeks of tension and occasional clashes in Phnom Penh erupted into a full-scale mortar and rocket battle July 5. The next day troops loyal to Second Prime Minister Hun Sen drove out forces loyal to First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh and sealed the capital. As many as 150 people were killed before fighting subsided July 6 and Hun Sen’s soldiers turned to looting, news reports said.
Several hundred summer workers assigned to nearly 50 nations this summer are sponsored jointly by various agencies of the Southern Baptist Convention.

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  • Marty Croll