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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - ...while the forgotton wounded struggle on

...while the forgotton wounded struggle on

S IX months after grenades shattered their lives, Hor Sinnath faces life as a paraplegic,

Neang Chanthan suffers violent headaches and convulsions, and Poeu Sinan, Koh Sovantha

and Hath Seng still face the prospect of losing their legs or feet to amputation.

For them and others, the nightmare of March 30 - when four grenades ripped through

a crowd of Khmer Nation Party (KNP) demonstrators outside the National Assembly -

is far from over.

They require on-going, expensive medical treatment, which they cannot afford, if

they are to be spared permanent damage.

"Either they go through these complicated operations or they may lose their

limbs," said Eva Galabru, director of the human rights group Licadho, about

Sinan, Sovantha and Seng.

The trio, hit by grenade shrapnel, today all suffer infections of their damaged bones.

Even with the right surgery, "we're not sure that we'll be able to save them",

said Galabru.

"When you're dealing with bone infections, it takes several operations to clean

them out, put them on antibiotics and so on, but no-one is able to guarantee their

success. Amputations are still lurking in the uncertain future for them."

Licadho, spending nearly $25,000 in donated money, has paid for operations and medical

treatment for some 40 victims of the grenade attack. The NGO is now seeking further

donations to pay for additional operations for the three victims with bone infections,

and for Neang Chanthan to have surgery to try to prevent permanent brain damage.

According to Beth Goldring, one of five members of Licadho's medical team, about

$30,000 is required for the operations.

For some, there is no hope of a full recovery. Hor Sinnath, a 38-year-old mother

of five who was paralysed when shrapnel cut into her spine, will almost certainly

not walk again.

Another woman, aged 53, also a paraplegic, is suffering severe depression.

"They will never recover," said Galabru. "But they haven't gone through

half their rehabilition yet. Funds will be needed for them in the longer term."

Both women are in rehabilitation, Sinnath in Battambang province, and the other woman

at the Kieng Klaeng rehabilitation center, run by Veterans International, in Phnom

Penh.

Even for some of those victims who have recovered physically, the mental and financial

scars from the grenade attack have yet to fade: depression, nightmares, or poverty

from loss of employment.

Six months on from March 30, no-one has been arrested for the massacre. Even the

death toll - believed to be between 12 and 17 - is unconfirmed, and will remain so.

For the dozens of people injured in the attack on a KNP rally against the judicial

system, there has been precious little help from the government. Many bear horror

stories of inept medical treatment at the hands of state hospitals.

The wounded have been assisted financially by Licadho and the KNP, while "others

have looked after themselves at home", Galabru said.

Of the several victims who still require sophisticated, expensive medical operations,

the case of Neang Chanthan, aged 50, is one of the most pressing.

X-rays show she has shrapnel lodged near her left temple, but lack of funds has so

far prevented surgery to remove it and try to repair the damage.

Chanthan said she suffers violent headaches, with occassional nausea, dizziness and

fainting, and "I still have convulsions twice a week".

The need for surgery frightens her. "They want me to have an operation on my

head, but I have nightmares about it," she said, adding that she dreams of her

head being engulfed in flames.

Chanthan, who has eight children, said her husband's low-paying job was not enough

to support them. Meanwhile, she owes more than $5,000 and fears that she may be thrown

in prison.

That was why she was at the KNP rally on the morning of March 30: embroiled in a

legal dispute over her property, she said she borrowed the money to cover her legal

costs and bribe a judge. She lost the case; the other side paid more to the judge,

she claimed.

Chanthan said she went to the protest hoping that she would have the chance to air

her grievance, but the grenades exploded before she could.

While she is now back at home, she spent nearly four months in hospital after the

attack: first in Calmette, then to a private hospital and finally on to Sihanouk

hospital, where she spent three months with the support of Licadho.

Meanwhile, three other victims remain at the Ta Chen private hospital in Phnom Penh.

One of them, 20-year-old garment factory worker Poeu Sinan, vividly recalls the morning

that, while she was holding a banner at the protest, grenade shrapnel struck her

right leg.

She was initially taken to Calmette but, because the hospital was too crowded, transferred

to Kossamak hospital, where she was left outside in a Nissan pick-up for about two

hours before being treated.

"I would have died if they'd left me there a little longer," she sighed

deeply.

Sinan said a woman helped her get a doctor to treat her - or at least set up a saline

drip - and offered to fetch her mother.

Upon hearing the news, Pol Nhim, Sinan's 52-year-old mother - who was cutting grass

at her 2,000 riel-a-day job 7km from the family's home - rushed to the hospital in

her mud- stained sarong and shirt.

Nhim said she borrowed $10 from her neighbour to get a moto-taxi to go see her daughter,

who was the main breadwinner in the family.

Meanwhile, Sinan's father, Poeu Doum, who is separated from Nhim, also rushed to

Kossamak. "He only had two pies to give to his daughter," Nhim said of

her husband.

After 12 days of "poor treatment" at Kossamak, Sinan was taken back to

Calmette and had pins put in her broken leg. After 30 days at Calmette, her leg had

become severely infected.

She was taken to Ta Chen private clinic for operations to replace the pins and remove

pieces of infected bone.

Kos Sovantha, aged 19, who was struck by shrapnel while riding her bicycle to an

English class, has a similar tale. She was taken to Calmette and stayed there for

10 days before being sent home, where her foot grew increasingly swollen.

Licadho took her to Kossamak, where she stayed until June, and then on to Sihanouk

Hospital. She was to have been operated on by a surgeon who worked on behalf of the

KNP but, after the July fighting, he has now fled to Thailand.

Subsequent x-rays revealedthat her broken bone was attached in the wrong place, while

shrapnel still remains in her foot. She now awaits further operations at Ta Chen,

if the money for them can be found.

Like Sinan, Sovantha has hardly anything to live on apart from money from Licadho

and some help from the Veterans International Kieng Klaeng Rehabilitation Center.

Sovantha's mother lives in a pagoda, since she lost a court case and was thrown out

of her house several years ago. Her father, crippled when a car ran over his legs

three years ago, lost his job after the July fighting in the capital.

Another victim of the grenade attack, moto-driver Hath Seng, 53, is also unable to

earn a living.

Seng was struck by shrapnel in his right foot and ankle, and his bike was damaged,

when he was caught in the grenade blasts while dropping a passenger off at the National

Assembly.

After 10 days at Calmette, when doctors were talking about amputating his foot, Licadho

took him to Kossamak, where its medical team could participate in his treatment.

Eventually, he was sent back home, waiting for the removal of shrapnel once his wound

had healed. In August, his condition worsened, his foot leaking pus, and he was taken

to Ta Chen.

He has been operated on, and is now waiting to see whether his foot will heal completely.

In the meantime, the former soldier - whose wife died two years ago - has a pregnant

elder daughter to look after, and her eight-year-old sister.

Seng said his family's cooking pot depended entirely on money brought in by his son-in-law,

a moto driver.

He had received no help from the government, he said. "Even the authorities

in my district have never visited me."

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