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Caged soldier suffers third-degree burns

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A soldier who fell victim to a fire while being detained for disciplinary reasons in Oddar Meanchey province receives treatment at a hospital in Phnom Penh, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013. Photograph: Vireak Mai/Phnom Penh Post

A soldier based in Oddar Meanchey was sent to a Phnom Penh Hospital this week after receiving third-degree burns while incarcerated in a cage for disciplinary reasons.

Neither the victim, 20-year-old Ok Khouch, nor his commanders have said whether it was an intentional attack.

Able to speak only in whispers, Khouch told a reporter that he would not file a complaint as he knew there was “no intention to burn me”.

“I did not notice how I was burned, because there were tree leaves covering the cage where I was detained,” said Khouch, whose legs, arms and back are covered in painful blisters. “The fire spread to me, but a man helped to find keys to unlock me.”

Yong Lun, Khouch’s commander at Military Brigade 442, said he could not comment on the incident but confirmed that one soldier was “burnt by cigarette fire” before rushing to turn off the phone.

According to Khouch’s mother, Nong Yan, the soldier was put in the cage after getting into an altercation with another soldier.

“My son was punished by being put in the cage. What type of rule is this?” she said.Yan said she believed the fire to be accidental but was dismayed by the lack of attention from his superiors – none of whom have visited Khouch or offered to help cover his mounting hospital bills.

“The military commander has said nothing. We don’t have an issue with anyone who caused this, because my son just considered it bad luck, but why did his commander keep him detained in the bird’s cage and then not care about him when he was burnt?”

While Khuoch brushed off the detention, saying that it was an ordinary disciplinary practice, rights workers were aghast.

“To detain a man in a cage is a form of torture,” said Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor for rights group Licadho, adding that although the victim did not file a lawsuit, authorities should investigate the detention, as it was “inappropriate punishment”.

Lieutenant General Chhin Chanpor, deputy military commander in charge of the troops at Ta Moan, said he was too busy to comment, while Neak Vong, military commander of the brigade, denied any such incident occurred.

“It’s just a rumour,” he said. “Nothing happened.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Chhay Channyda at channyda.chhay@phnompenhpost.com
With assistance from Cheang Sokha

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