Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Hun Sen wound memorial goes to the cows

Hun Sen wound memorial goes to the cows

Hun Sen wound memorial goes to the cows

The tower across the Mekong from Kampong Cham from which Lon Nol

soldiers fired on Hun Sen's bunker 30m away.

ON the eve of the 25th anniversary of the Khmer Rouge takeover, Cambodia's sole memorial

commemorating Khmer Rouge military actions during the lead-up to that victory has

been relegated to the ignominious status of a livestock pen.

Located on a dusty dirt track on the east side of the Mekong opposite the town of

Kampong Cham, a wooden structure built over the bunker where Prime Minister Hun Sen

sustained crippling shrapnel wounds to his left eye is now dedicated to confining

cows rather than commemorating the sacrifices of the revolution.

According to Kun Seng and other residents who live nearby the memorial, the original

structure was built in 1985 by the then-village chief to protect and preserve the

old KR bunker in which Hun Sen and other KR cadres took shelter in during their advance

on the Lon Nol stronghold of Kampong Cham.

A year later, residents were amazed to see Hun Sen and Bun Rany lead a convoy of

vehicles to the memorial site.

"We were surprised because [Hun Sen and Bun Rany} were wearing old clothes and

riding a motorcycle, just like common people," Seng said. "Only when we

saw the vehicles coming behind them did we know it really was Hun Sen."

According to Seng, the Prime Minister expressed his appreciation at the construction

of the memorial, but insisted that the old bunker site be devoted to more practical

purposes.

"Hun Sen asked that the bunker be covered over, and that this structure be turned

into a rest-station for travellers along this road," resident Oy Son explained.

"Later a floor was put in, some furniture and awnings to keep out the sun."

While Hun Sen was apparently circumspect about his activities in the area prior to

his eye wound, residents still have vivid memories of the time.

"In 1975 this area [on the east side of the Mekong] was a terrible battlefield

... there were no houses, just Khmer Rouge fighting with Lon Nol soldiers,"

explained long-time Kampong Cham resident Oy Son. "This area along the river

was the defense perimeter to keep the KR away from the riverbank."

According to residents, Hun Sen's bunker would have been subject to withering fire

from the nearby French-colonial customs tower, located only 20 meters south of the

bunker.

"There was a unit of Lon Nol soldiers in the tower, and another unit one kilometer

north, protecting the river bank," Seng explained. "All around here there

were bunkers used by the Khmer Rouge as they pushed closer to the river."

Details about the circumstances behind Hun Sen's actions as a KR cadre during the

siege of Kampong Cham and his resulting eye wound are disappointingly scant in Hun

Sen's official biography, "Hun Sen, Strongman of Cambodia" by Harish C

and Julie B Mehta.

The incident is summarized in one brief sentence, compared to four sentences devoted

to the reaction of his then-wife-to-be Bun Rany to the news of the injury.

Nevertheless, residents living around the memorial are not short of supposition regarding

what befell Hun Sen on April 16, 1975.

"I think it must have been a M-79 grenade launcher that did it," explained

Oy Son. "It was probably fired by one of the Lon Nol soldiers in the tower."

Not necessarily, says Seng.

"This area was under intense bombardment from many sources during that time,"

the former resident of Kampong Cham town at the time of the KR takeover explained.

"Along with the firing by the Lon Nol soldiers stationed on this side of the

river, there was also artillery barrages from shore batteries across the river as

well as firing by gunboats on the river."

A wooden structure built over the bunker where Hun Sen lost his eye to enemy fire is the only memorial commemorating Khmer Rouge military activities, but now it is a cowpen.

Indeed, while Hun Sen's bunker is now long gone, the bullet holes and craters in

the thick stone walls of the former colonial customs tower bears mute testimony to

the ferocity of the firefight leading up to the Khmer Rouge takeover of Kampong Cham

on April 17.

A worryingly large unexploded missile embedded in the side of the tower that faced

Hun Sen's now-vanished bunker suggests that he and his comrades gave as good as they

got prior to that fateful shrapnel burst.

"CMAC has taken away a lot of the old UXO around here, but there are still hundreds

of empty shell cases lying around," Seng said. "Children regularly find

them and sell them to scrap metal merchants."

Residents are vague about the precise circumstances behind the transformation of

the former rest-house/memorial into an animal pen.

"Somebody took away the furniture and then the screens disappeared," Son

said with a shrug. "Then people started putting animals there."

The prospect of a possible return to the site by Hun Sen on the 25th anniversary

of his injury is considered a remote one by nearby residents.

"I don't know what Hun Sen would think if he came here again and saw that his

memorial was now a cow shed," mused Seng. "He hasn't been back here for

a very long time."

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