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Moon among the stars

Moon among the stars

AMONG the worldwide demin-ing community - indeed, to most who know the man - Chris

Moon is something of a legend.

Variously described as "an absolute gentleman" and "totally professional"

he recently returned to Cambodia - where he had previously worked as a deminer and

had gained notoriety after being kidnapped by the Khmer Rouge - to run in the inaugural

Phnom Penh International Marathon.

But this time he came minus some important bits. A mine blast in Mozambique - where

he went to clean up the mess from somebody else's war - robbed him of his right hand

and right lower leg.

At the time, the friends he had left behind in Phnom Penh were horrified.

"Chris Moon? Blown up? You're joking!" was the usual response. The disbelief

continued as suggestions made their way through the grapevine that Chris may have

let his guard down.

There were even suggestions he had abandoned all the safety rules and handled an

improvised explosive device. But Chris says the evidence points to another conclusion

and resents the suggestion as a slur on his professionalism.

"It was a very simple and straight forward accident which has happened in Cambodia

a number of times," he said matter-of-factly. "It was an anti-personnel

blast mine which had been buried below detector depth. The people who had laid the

mine had also put a block of TNT on top, so it was a pretty powerful blast."

Surgeons who dug residual explosive from his wounded leg estimated the total charge

at between 300 and 400 grams of explosive, about four times the amount usually found

in off-the-shelf, anti-personnel mines.

"I was walking back down the safe lane when I heard a bang - it was the loudest

thing I ever heard," he said. "A moment latter I was looking up at the

beautiful blue African sky. I felt completely normal...

"I looked up at the sky and thought: 'Bloody Khmer Rouge, they're mortaring

the mine field again. I've been knocked over so I better check that I haven't been

fragged.' "

The first thing he noticed was a hole in the back of his right hand through which,

it subsequently turned out, the blast had punched the mine prodder he was carrying.

"I noticed this hole in my hand and thought: 'Oh dear, I've been blown up. I

looked down and sure enough, no foot or lower leg. Just a finger of yellow bone and

ragged flesh."

At this early stage, according to Chris, he still felt no pain. He called out his

status to the back-up team stationed on a nearby road and instructed them to try

to contact a helicopter which was working with another agency nearby.

From there it was to a hospital in South Africa and then back to the UK where, after

a year of post- graduate study, he now runs his own security management consultancy.

"I couldn't remain in demining, because I would have to sack myself as a safety

risk," he said, explaining that no-one with one hand has any business clearing

mine fields.

"I didn't get depressed. Initially it was a bit difficult because all my mates

would come and visit me in the hospital, so I had a few hangovers," he said

with a deadpan expression.

Regarding the suggestion that he may have handled an improvised device, Chris said

investigators got it wrong.

"The investigation found a rubber tire and a piece of metal suggesting something

other than a landmine, but the site was actually an old rubbish dump.

"When I got to hospital my hand was still intact. If I had actually touched

something, my hand would have been blown off and I would have had more damage to

my flack jacket and visor.

"I wanted to keep my hand - I thought it would be rather nice set in plastic.

But the surgeons incinerated it," he said with just the faintest of grins.

"They still think they could have saved it, but it would have taken another

18 months of surgery. I much preferred to have it amputated, otherwise I'd still

be in and out of hospital."

Clearly disappointed with his 6:40 time for the 42 km Phnom Penh International Marathon

course, he excused himself before a coughing fit briefly consumed him.

"I did the London marathon in 5:40 and last October I did the New York marathon

in 5:20. I could have done much better here if it wasn't for this stinking cold...

Stinking cold or not, 6:40 is not a bad time for a bloke with one leg, especially

considering that many of the able bodied runners quit at various points along the

course.

Assisted in returning to Phnom Penh by the British Mines Advisory Group (MAG), Chris

was determined to complete the marathon course as an example of what mine victims

can achieve.

As part of a team of disabled MAG deminers participating in the marathon, his task

was to help overcome the "appalling" prejudice and social isolation suffered

by Cambodia's disabled.

Generally refused work after stepping on a mine and forced to exist without the benefits

of a working social security system, their future is often limited to begging a few

riel each day.

"The Khmers are astonished when they look at me - a barang [European] - with

a false arm and a false leg. They want to know what happened, so I tell them... actually

I tell the kids my mother cut my hand off for picking my nose," he said with

a smile before adopting a serious expression.

"Attitudes toward disabled people here really need to change ... I think it's

important to remind Cambodians that mines are indiscriminate," he said.

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