IM Malene lay in a dirty chair under her house, a catheter between her legs and her
wheelchair nearby. She did not bother to flick the flies off her left leg. It has
been paralyzed since grenade shrapnel slammed into her spine on March 30, 1997.
"I was on a motorbike on Sothearos Boulevard. As I passed the National Assembly,
a grenade exploded and I fell face down," she said. "I cried for help,
but there was no one around except the wounded and the dead."
She had passed by at the wrong moment that day, just as unknown assailants lobbed
four hand grenades into a rally outside the Assembly. At least 16 people were killed
and 130 injured.
One year later, Malene says she wants to attend the ceremony for the dead, the wounded
and their families, scheduled for 8 am Monday at the grenade site.
"I want to go there so the outside world can see me, see that Cambodia has a
lot of difficulties."
A Buddhist Bon Kmauch ceremony - to help the spirits of the dead rest in peace after
a year - will be held on March 30, 1998. The original rally organizers, dissident
politician Sam Rainsy and union leader Ou Mary, will erect a pavilion and have invited
monks to lead a prayer and meditation session of up to 1000 people.
The family of Chhet Duong Daravuth, a Sam Rainsy loyalist and journalist killed in
the attack, say they would like to come to Rainsy's ceremony but will have a private
one at home instead.
Even after a year, the thought of her husband's murder moves widow Buth Varoun to
tears of rage and sadness.
"Before, when I had difficulties, my husband helped me. Now there is no one
to support me ... that's why I am so angry. But I haven't the power or ability to
fight. So I bear it in my heart," she said.
The family has invited Sam Rainsy to their ceremony, but fear for his security if
he attends. They said they are angry at the level of violence in Cambodia and its
"My daughter likes and hates camouflage uniforms very much," said Varoun,
pointing to the winsome 4-year-old in an army green T-shirt. "She knows that
these are the uniforms of the people who can kill. She wants to grow up and wear
a uniform like this" so she can avenge her father's death.
Even those who escaped with their lives still bear heavy burdens. The human rights
group Licadho, which received about $21,000 in donations to help the victims, has
spent all but about $3,000 in compensation and ongoing medical care.
Rainsy's party has also provided compensation and medical help, including sending
some of the worst cases to France for treatment.
Virtually all the victims still have grenade shrapnel in their bodies, which can
cause them pain and sometimes fever, and affects their movements. Licadho lacks money
to fund such operations, and some require microsurgery, which is not available here,
according to Eva Bondestam, a Licadho nurse.
Licadho medical reports show that besides their injuries, many victims have suffered
from depression, insomnia, and lack of concentration since the attack: classic symptoms
of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Eighteen-year-old Chien Sarith, who is illiterate and lives in a pagoda, has been
forced to drop out of a motorcycle repair course because he cannot concentrate.
He said of the first time he passed the attack site: "I felt strange. I wanted
to cry, or scream."
He has accepted an invitation to the ceremony, although he says he feels "abandoned"
by Rainsy because he has not been sent to France for treatment.
"You will see on the 30th a lot of people who were wounded. Their lives have
been shattered, broken... What can you do?" asked Rainsy. "I have to take
my full responsibility."
Im Malene made sure that Rainsy took responsibility. After she heard him announce
publicly that the wounded should meet with him, she clambered into her wheelchair,
corralled two people to push, and set off for Rainsy's house.
"I went from my house [behind the French Embassy] to Pochentong street. There
I got a cyclo," said the determined Malene. Rainsy was not at home when she
arrived, but his aides gave her $100.
With Rainsy's compensation, plus 4,000 riel a day and medical aid from Licadho, Malene
can hire a helper and just about cope. She stood up, for the first time since her
injury, three months ago.
But she was plunged into deep depression after July's fighting, afraid Licadho would
"Living now is very hard, even eating or taking a bath. When I want to take
a bath, I must get help," she said, her eyes welling with tears.
Chan Mony, 29, also finds life hard now. He was covering the rally for the Kampuchea
Tngay Nih newspaper, and was almost blinded in the attack.
After the grenades hit "I could only see dark in front of my face", he
said. "My leg was bent all the way up... and I thought I didn't have a left
eye, I felt it and found only blood."
His newspaper paid for treatment in Malaysia, but laid him off while he was recovering
from his injuries. "I went to protest to my boss that 'I worked for you, I got
injured, now you stop me from working' ... but the boss did not reply to that."
He said he is nearly blind in his left eye, and he still limps. But he has a new
job with another newspaper and said he would try to attend the ceremony.
Although Rainsy has said that Second Prime Minister Hun Sen told him that he would
be interested in coming to the ceremony, he feels confident that Hun Sen will not
"If I were [Hun Sen], I would be embarrassed to come... It would really insult
the people. We should not add insult to injury."
Hun Sen spokesman Prak Sokhonn said he doubted the Second Prime Minister would attend,
noting that Hun Sen has canceled all public appearances due to the death of his mother.
However, Rainsy would like Hun Sen to acknowledge the event. "I think Hun Sen,
[and co-Interior Ministers] You Hockry and Sar Kheng are at least responsible for
not taking the proper precautions [to protect demonstrators]," Rainsy said.
"I think they should at least say sorry for this."
He added: "To some extent I was also responsible. I led people to death. I have
to ask forgiveness also."
The March 30 dead are: Yong Soknev, 18; Yong Srei, 22; Chanti Pheakdei, 13; Ros Sothea,
13; Sok Kheng, 20; Yos Siep, 22; Han Mony, 33; Yoeun Yorn, 17; Sum Sarin, 50, Chhet
Duong Daravuth, 30; Chea Nang, 27; Nam Ty, 37; plus at least four others.
Many of the wounded say they are afraid to be in large public groups now. But Im
Malene is resolute.
"I will go to join the ceremony. And if there is a grenade attack again - let