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Neak Loung revisited

Neak Loung revisited

Dear Sir.

In the Post's Feb 11 - 24 edition in his travel article about

Highway 1, John Westhrop wrote: 'East across the Mekong river is Neak Luong, a

city flattered when an American B-52 mistakenly dropped its load there.'

That's surely the first time Neak Luong has been classified a city. The

river-crossing settlement has never been more than barely a town: Westhrop's

juggling of semantics conjures utter devastation and calamitous casualties in

grotesque factual distortion of the kind favored by his idol John

Pilger.

If a city is flattened then minimum casualties will surely be

10,000 dead, may be 20,000. The reality was a hundred plus killed when a

careless air crew forgot to flip a switch and the plane homed in on a beacon in

Neak Luong. A string of bombs plastered the main street and the Western anti-war

movement howled in rage. The incident fueled the opening scenes of the

anti-American film The Killing Fields.

But just months after the tragedy

Neak Luong was hammered by clinical Khmer Rouge rocket and artillery attacks in

early 1974 that left a thousand dead, and wounded countless more. The

regrettable American accident that killed dozens was trumpeted as villainy; the

communists' deliberate attack that killed a thousand got ignored, and the bias

is still being perpetrated twenty years later though Westhrop can't match the

obscenity of that other Highway One raconteur Sue Downie whose disturbing

catalogue of pro-Hanoi inaccuracies climaxes with accusation that the United

States slaughtered thousands of Quang Tri civilians in 1972 when it was Downie's

Hanoi friends who conducted the butchery. This from a BBC reporter!

And

Westhrop's selective reference to Neak Luong insults the memory of the epic

heroism of its Lon Nol soldiers who held out against the Khmer Rouge in a savage

siege launched on the first day of 1975. Neak Luong commanded control of the

Mekong river: if the Rouge could choke Pochentong airport with rockets and seal

the river at Neak Luong, Phnom Penh would be devoid of supply routes.

The

garrison at Neak Luong held and held and held. Churned by relentless Rouge

shelling, its supply situation critical, its sole medical staff of one doctor

and nine nurses eventually withdrawn by helicopter in shattered exhaustion,

without bandages or medicines or hope, it still fought and held in desperation

to survive until the June monsoons of salvation would swell the Mekong into an

angry yellow cauldron that would break its banks and broaden to flood guerrilla

gun emplacements. Week after week and month after month the battered garrison

clawed to hang on to save the nation from Khmer Rouge horror.

It didn't

make it. Neak Luong was finally overwhelmed on the afternoon of April 1. It did

not surrender. Final radio communiqués received in Phnom Penh indicated the last

of its soldiers fighting hand-to-hand. None of the garrison or civilians

escaped: 'Fate unknown, and the thousands of Rouge who had besieged Neak Luong

surged to join the final battle for Phnom Penh.

American intent in both

Vietnam and Cambodia was honorable. The United States sought to support people

under threat from an ideological system they clearly had no interest

in.

- Richard Briggs, ACE School, Phnom Penh

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