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7/8/97 Cambodian strife strands 30 summer student workers

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (BP)–Thirty summer workers sought safety in the home of Southern Baptist workers Steve and Patti Ellis and their four daughters as fighting broke out between troops of rival prime ministers in Cambodia’s capital city July 5.
Fighting drew to within a few blocks of the Ellis home, and the sounds of gunfire and mortar blasts reverberated through the neighborhood.
The university students arrived July 3 and had just begun to familiarize themselves with Phnom Penh before beginning work teaching conversational English to local students. Now it appears they will evacuate as soon as the airport is usable again and enough stability returns for a U.S. Embassy operation.
The workers were still with Patti Ellis and her girls July 7. Steve Ellis, her husband, was en route by plane from the United States, where he and the president of the Cambodia Baptist Convention spoke at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Dallas June 11.
Patti Ellis was communicating regularly with the embassy and other Americans in Cambodia and with Southern Baptist representatives in the United States.
The students were planning to move to a central location in a hotel downtown the evening of July 5, but fighting in the streets became too intense to leave the house. The group was able to secure some food from a small local market with help from local Cambodians and was rationing it, a Southern Baptist spokesman said.
“There’s not a lot of alternatives when there’s fighting in the streets and you can’t go outside,” the spokesman said.
Nearly half of the 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 students are working in nearly 50 nations this summer, sponsored jointly by various agencies of the Southern Baptist Convention.

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  • Marty Croll