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An empty shell

An empty shell

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empty.jpg

Khieu Eum: 'I'm too old, too weak and too tired to work.'

AFTER half a lifetime in uniform, Khieu Eum, 63, is the embodiment of the quintessential

Cambodian veteran.

He has fought for his country and his leaders under every regime in the last four

decades - except Pol Pot - and has plenty of experience as a rebel in the jungles

- first as a Khmer Issarak guerrilla in the 1950s, then as a royalist resistance

soldier on the Thai border in the 1980s.

But in June this year, Eum's life as an armed fighter came to an end. Together with

420 other soldiers in Battambang he was discharged from duty under the Government's

pilot demobilization program.

Eum didn't leave the barracks without sentiment.

"When I put down my soldier's pack, I became an empty shell - now I am nothing,"

he says.

Although he finds life as a civilian difficult, he's not actually disappointed with

the financial and practical assistance he received when he was demobilized. He's

just worried about how to make a living for him and his wife, who lives in a tiny

borrowed hut on the outskirts of Battambang.

"I'm too old, too weak and too tired to work," Eum says. "My wife

has a small shop, but sometimes she doesn't even make 500 riels in a day. My children

live far away and they are also poor, so I receive no support from them."

The $240 he got when he demobilized was spent on buying medicine to treat long-term

tuberculosis, and Eum doesn't have many ideas about how additional assistance could

help him make some money.

"If possible I would like to receive some more cash - maybe a pension,"

he says. "I have no use for agricultural equipment because I'm too weak to work,

but maybe I could tend to some chickens or pigs around the house."

While a cash payment is out of the question, Bonaventure Mbida-Essama of the World

Bank, who coordinates the demobilization program, says help will be on its way to

Eum. The old veteran falls into one of the "special target groups" of disabled

and chronically ill soldiers, war widows, old or child soldiers that requires special

attention when they are discharged.

"From the pilot program, we have learned that there should be a special demobilization

package for these groups," says Mbida-Essama.

"For instance, in the cases of disabled, old or chronically ill soldiers we

would focus our efforts on the family instead. The wife or the children would receive

skills training or equipment to strengthen their ability to support the family, if

the head of the family cannot do the job."

The full demobilization program aims to discharge 31,500 soldiers nationwide. Of

them, some 19,000 fall within the special target groups.

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