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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Victims say shots fired as they lay wounded

Victims say shots fired as they lay wounded

B ULGARIAN Dimitir (Mitko) Ivanov lay on Sihanouk Blvd thinking "I haven't been

shot", till he put a hand to his neck and felt bullet holes.

Ivanov, shot

three times - though he hadn't felt the impact of any of them - said more

bullets were sprayed around him as he lay wounded.

He and his two friends

said they were later relieved of wallets, mobile telephones and jewelry by

soldiers who had shot at them.

The three men were on Ivanov's Honda Rebel

motorcycle when it was shot off the road on the night of Saturday, Aug

26.

Ivanov 18, was shot in the back, shoulder and neck, while Briton

Gregory James, 29, had his right forearm smashed by a bullet. Braiko Zahov, 17,

a friend of Ivanov's from Bulgaria, suffered serious head injuries in the

motorcycle crash.

Ivanov and James, speaking from their Calmette Hospital

beds, recalled how their Saturday night turned ugly after they left the Bouddha

Bar, under the Foreign Correspondents Club, about 12.30am.

"Greg couldn't

get his bike to start, and there were no motos," said Ivanov. "We were the last

customers, so I said I'd give him a ride home."

The pair, along with

Zahov, rode off down Sothearos Blvd past the Royal Palace on Ivanov's Honda

Rebel motorcycle.

As they passed the Khmer Vietnamese Monument, nearing

the intersection with Sihanouk Blvd, the trio saw the flashes of tracer bullets

apparently aimed in their direction. They pulled into a side street.

"We

stopped and smoke cigarettes until the shooting stopped, for about five

minutes," Ivanov said. "Then we started the bike and went off.

"I turned

right [into Sihanouk Blvd]. I thought it was all quiet. Then they started

shooting.

"There was shooting, shooting, shooting. We didn't know whether

they were police or gangsters. I really thought they were going to hit us. The

bullets were straight in front of my bike, right in front. First, they came from

the right side, near the Khmer Vietnamese Monument, then they came from

everywhere.

"We thought we were caught in a firefight. The bullets were

all tracers; it was like a fireworks show all around the bike.

"I thought

'If we stop, they're going to shoot me'. Greg was telling me to go for it, after

the first shots, so I went fast. But we had a small army waiting for

us."

James recalled tugging his mobile telephone from his pocket, vainly

trying to telephone someone for help as bullets whipped past, before one hit him

in his other arm.

Both men are adamant there was no roadblock on Sihanouk

Blvd. James said that as the bike entered the street, he saw armed men seemingly

appear out of nowhere in the park where the Khmer Vietnamese Monument

is.

The first and only time he heard someone shout "stop" was after they

had opened fire, he said.

The motorbike made it several hundred meters

down the street. It grew "very heavy", Ivanov recalled - police later said there

were four to five bullets through its engine, petrol tank and front wheel -

before spinning out of control.

The trio crashed somewhere between the

North Korean Embassy, a few doors up from Second Prime Minister Hun Sen's

residence, and the Independence Monument.

"They were still shooting with

AK[47]s when we were on the ground," said Ivanov. "I think I got my last shot

there, but I don't know for sure.

"There were some military police, some

soldiers and some police. I saw this policeman pull out a pistol, a Makarov, and

come toward me. He was saying something in an angry way. My ears were stuffed

up, I couldn't hear. This guy kept coming at me, shooting all around me, five or

six bullets.

"I raised one leg and my hand. I was screaming in Khmer. I

said we were foreigners, I was from Bulgaria, and we don't carry guns... that we

are foreigners, stop shooting."

After having a circle of pistols shots

sprayed around him, the shooting stopped. Ivanov felt his body, looking for

wounds.

"I said to myself 'I haven't been shot yet'. Then I touch my

neck, and felt a few holes. Then I see the blood. At the same time I hear Greg

say 'F**k, I've been shot'."

James recalled Ivanov, touching his neck

with his hands, saying: "I've got a hole here, man, and I've got a hole

here."

James lay nursing his shot arm when a soldier began frisking

him.

"I'm there on the ground, and this guy points his AK47 at me, rips

my phone from me and thrusts it in his belt. He took my spectacles

too."

Zahov, meanwhile, lay silent, having smashed his head on the ground

in the crash.

Ivanov said the three were loaded on to a military truck by

soldiers and police - "they didn't say anything, they just held us like pigs" -

and driven to Calmette.

Ivanov doesn't recall being robbed but by the

time they had got to hospital, he had lost his wallet and mobile telephone. A

bracelet had been taken off Zahov's wrist while he lay

semi-conscious.

James said: "They were searching us while they were

bringing us here in the wagon. They were going through our pockets. That's what

really gets to me. After they shoot us, see that we're foreigners and they've

made a mistake, they rob us."

At the hospital, Ivanov told the staff to

contact the Bulgarian Embassy - where his father is an attaché - and thought he

was going to die. "I was lying here and saying to Greg 'Greg, I'm dying, man'.

He was saying 'Hold on, Mitko, you're not going to die'."

Today, Ivanov

and James are amazed that neither of them died, but are waiting to see whether

they will suffer permanent damage. Ivanov is unclear on the path of bullets

through his body - "I don't know, I can't work out the shots" - but his doctors

say he took three bullets. One apparently went through his shoulder, into his

neck and out his jaw.

James, a computer trainer, has begun painful

physiotherapy on his right arm. Zahov, who though not shot was the most badly

injured, has been flown home to Bulgaria. Ivanov said Zahov's doctors feared

that his internal head injuries could claim his life or at least leave him with

permanent brain damage.

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