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Landmines causing havoc on northern battlefields

Landmines causing havoc on northern battlefields

W AR victims are filling the rancid, fly-blown wards and hallways of the Military

hospital in Phnom Penh.

The lucky ones have family to dress their wounds and bathe them in the toilet

block or from water drums outside.

Most of the patients are amputees, or soon will be. Most still wear their

soldier's uniform.

Hospital director Kao Try said there were 714 injured soldiers in the 500-bed

hospital, 60 or 70 per cent of them amputees. The numbers had risen sharply over

the last few weeks. On average, one out of every hundred will die under the

knife.

The wounded were in the capital because the provincial hospitals lacked staff

and supplies, he said.

Their stories pinpoint the current "hot-spots" more

thoroughly than any governmental briefing: Preah Vihear, Battambang, Anlong

Veng, Kulen, Siem Reap.

Som Sary, 32, was ordered to Preah Vihear with 150 comrades from Stung Treng

in December. On Feb. 12 he was asked to head a demining team - with no hi-tech

equipment, just bamboo "feeling" rods - after his company had been cut off. He

lost his right leg that same day.

"It is a very bad situation," he said of Preah Vihear. "There are many mines,

so many mines. Many soldiers don't want to fight. Some have run away."

Sary described an area saturated by mines and crude but effective body traps,

with KP making quick, demoralizing attacks after mines had been detonated. "Many

soldiers have had accidents with mines."

Seng Sok, 28, lay on the hallway,

his right leg missing to the knee from a mine in Som Rorng district, Siem

Reap.

He said the Khmer Rouge strategy was to divide into small hit-and-run groups.

New mines and booby traps were prevalent.

"Sometimes, we fight three or four times a day against the KR. I know it is

very dangerous but I have no excuse because it is my duty."

Sok said he was transported by helicopter to the Phnom Penh because the

provincial hospital had no medicines, but he was being treated poorly in the

Phnom Penh hospital.

"I haven't got any bottles of serum. They said I am still strong enough, that

I don't need serum or vitamin."

But he smiled when he said there was enough hospital food, which was

different from the battlefield.

Dr Try said there was no bilateral or NGO

assistance for the military hospital.

The hospital only had antibiotics and bandages, but very few anti-malarial

medicines.

One soldier gave the Post a letter saying that some hospital staff asked for

money.

Dr Try said that he had never asked a soldier to pay money. "I don't think

our staff asked any patients for money. If I found out, I would free them from

their jobs immediately."

Try told the Post that Price Norodom Ranariddh has pledge $1 million from the

military budget to equip the hospital with modern equipment and techniques.

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