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Border troops battle illness


Preah Vihear

Armed clashes aren't the only challenges facing troops stationed near Preah Vihear, as hundreds suffer from malaria and other ailments each month.

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Cambodian soldiers stand guard on the front lines in disputed border territory near Preah Vihear temple in this file photo.

CAMBODIAN soldiers stationed at Veal Antri, the scene of some of the fiercest fighting with Thai soldiers in the two countries' months-long border dispute, are now facing another formidable battle - repeated cases of malaria and other physical ailments.

About four out of 10 soldiers stationed there currently require some form of medical treatment, military doctors say.

Bo Sarath, a medic deployed with Battalion 81 at Veal Antri, has seen his fair share of hardships on the front lines.

The 47-year-old former Khmer Rouge soldier regularly amputated limbs and removed shrapnel from injured soldiers during the 1980s and 1990s.

His treatments now are less gruesome but still plentiful.

Bo Sarath says he treats between 200 and 500 soldiers each month at a treatment centre near the front lines for ailments ranging from minor aches and pains to recurring bouts of malaria.

"I ask them about their illnesses and then treat them straight away because I know the symptoms, particularly those of malaria," Bo Sarath said.

"Treatment for malaria is simple but because they are in the mountains, they contract it easily."


Mok Keng, chief medic for Brigade 8 in Ko Muoy, about 5 kilometres from the Preah Vihear temple complex, said as many as 600 soldiers fell ill there each month, typically from malaria, typhoid or less serious fevers. A few even contracted measles last month, he added.

Mok Keng's medical team is currently preparing for malaria season, which typically runs from August through October. He has requested the pesticide Albet be used throughout the area to kill mosquito larvae and has instructed soldiers to drink only boiled water.

Sann Sokhom, a soldier based at the Preah Vihear temple, is well-acquainted with malaria. As well as being the first soldier wounded during border clashes in July last year - he was shot in the left arm - Sann Sokhom has suffered three bouts of malaria since his arrival at the front lines.

"I was very sick but over the decades since I first contracted malaria, I have gotten used to it," he said.

But other areas near the border have seen much fewer cases among soldiers.

Neak Vong, deputy commander of Brigade 42 at the Ta Moan temple, said malaria was rare among soldiers deployed there.

"I have had only two or three soldiers come down with malaria in the last three months. They rarely catch it because they are immune to it by now,' Neak Vong said.

He added that soldiers there have houses near the front lines and sleep with mosquito netting to protect them against infection.

But conditions in general along the battle lines of a border dispute now in its ninth month tend to favour the spread of illness, soldiers in the area say.

Chik Meng, deployed at Veal Antri, says garbage has begun to build up around soldiers' campsites, and troops are exposed to the extremes of the weather, with only minimal shelter from the elements.



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