THEY were running away into nearby streets after the explosions, a mad rush to keep
their distance from the carnage. It was like an invisible circle had drawn around
the victims. Entering the circle was like diving into another world, protected by
nothing from the horror.
A woman lay on her back wearing a pink shirt, her legs transformed into mangled pieces
of flesh. A moto-taxi driver moaned from his injuries, his fallen bike next to him.
The loaves of bread he had been carrying were red.
Nearby police made no move to help during the first 20 minutes. No ambulances or
cars came to help the wounded.
A man died. Just behind his feet was the impact crater of a grenade. Next to him
was another body, face turned to the ground. And next to him another woman, her torso
covered with holes, her legs no longer attached.
A sugarcane tricycle had been blown apart by the blast. Sugarcane was spread out
on the ground and stained red. The demonstrators' banners lay limp on the ground,
smeared with blood, along with shoes and flip-flops blown off bodies or just lost
in the panic.
Member of Parliament Son Chhay emerged, looked at the scene from the National Assembly
sidewalk and wept. More victims shouted for help; some could only murmur.
"Khdao, khdao" (Hot, hot) whispered a lady whose legs were a blur of blood,
flesh and grass. Her eyes closed from time to time, but she tried to keep them open,
to keep in touch with the world. She lay there 40 minutes. Eventually carried to
a pick-up truck, she died upon arrival at Calmette hospital. Too late, too much lost
blood, said the doctors.
The less-severely injured grabbed motos, cyclos or walked from the scene. Some collapsed
outside nearby houses, the blood on their clothes serving as their only voice for
Mok Chito, chief of the Phnom Penh police, turned up amid the carnage. With a lot
of whispering, a deputy told him something that no-one was supposed to hear.
Next to the sugarcane tricycle an old woman with a krama on her stood on the grass,
looking around. Crying. In her arms, she carried a baby and fed the child a bottle
of milk. Staring at the corpses all around her, she dropped her head and looked at
herself. She was not injured. Still crying, she tried to move the sugarcane cart.
Two ambulances from the Cambodian Red Cross showed up, and more pick-up trucks. Some
neighbors tried to help, carrying the wounded to vehicles. Reporters put aside their
cold hearts and tried to comfort the wounded, despite their helplessness.
A furious young guy, in his anger, just kept on carrying the wounded to cars. Time
and time again. Nearby, a military policeman took the time to stand on a chair to
take down a loudspeaker tied to a tree. A few meters away from him, a child lay bleeding.
The police who carried the wounded were unable to choose between the most seriously
injured and the less injured. They heaved them carelessly into the back of vehicles.
A woman was put on a pick-up, what remained from her blown up legs spilling out of
As many bodies still lay on the spot, the police started to tie a rope around the
scene - the rope was taken down later, and the road reopened to traffic who drove
through the debris and blood.
Sam Rainsy, who had emerged unhurt, had quickly been taken to his house, where a
press conference was called.
He sat on a rattan chair, his suit splattered with blood and broken glass, and explained
that a bodyguard had jumped on him as the grenades went off. The bodyguard died.
"I thought I was wounded because of the blood I had on my suit. I asked my bodyguards
'How do you feel when you are wounded?' They told me you feel burning, but not much
pain. I was not wounded."
As Rainsy railed against those who had thrown the grenades, and those who believed
were behind them, he was interrupted from time to time by aides. They gave him the
latest news of who had died, of who was hurt.
At hospitals around Phnom Penh, the victims were being put in rooms and in corridors,
in beds or on mats on the floor. Families poured in to search for lost loved ones.
They brought water, and rice and mosquito nets.
At Calmette, an old man lay alone, no family beside him. He muttered delirious, and
said he was from Takhmao. A few beds down from him, a crowd of anxious colleagues
surrounded a journalist, his leg smashed by shrapnel.
Chea Chhavy lay on the floor nearby. The first thing she said was that she was not
supposed to be at the demonstration.
"I never attended any demonstration, although I'd been invited three times before.
I was about to do my laundry to prepare for Monday, the work day, but my mother told
me to go to listen to what they said.
"I was watching Rainsy talking. Then 'Boom! Boom!' I felt the blast in my chest.
I was standing alone after the explosions of the first grenades, while everyone else
crawled toward the trees. I couldn't hear anything, my chest was so full. I could
only see people crawling.
"I raised my palm, begging for a moto-dop to give me a ride but they refused.
An old man later gave me a hand, he put me on his motorbike and took me to the hospital."
Chhavy is 28. She is a widow with one child and lives with her mother. She works
at a garment factory.
"It would not have happened to me if I had stayed at home to wash my laundry,"
Down the corridor, a 12-year-boy sat on the floor. He said he lived at a wat and
went to the demonstration because he was promised 5,000 riels. His eyes were glazed,
and he didn't really want to talk.
Over at the Preah Sihanouk hospital, there was a 50-year-old man, Pa Lieng, injured
in his torso. His family gathered immediately around him. His son could speak French
and English, and he wanted to talk about the lack of democracy and human rights.
"I have been attending all the KNP protests and I will continue to do so,"
Lieng said though his son's translation. His family nodded in agreement.
In another room, three young women were being cared for by their friends. The three
were old friends and garment workers who had been involved in strikes for better
Kan is 20 years old. She is pretty. She was hit in the back by grenade fragments.
"I arrived at 7:30 am. It started at 8 am. I was invited the day before to attend
a meeting, but I did not know it was for a demonstration," she said.
"I saw everyone running away in all directions. I just heard the people asking
for help," she said.
Next to her bed, one of her friends, more seriously injured, mumbled in pain. Three
friends sat on the side of the bed. One after the other, they held the hand of their
friend, who had a bandage over her eyes.
Downstairs a wife was worried about the fate of her husband. She was begging doctors
to have a look at her husband's injury. "He was just passing by. He is a professor
and did not attend the demonstration," she said in panic as her husband lay
All day long, the NGO Licadho sent crews to give medical support to Preah Kossamak
hospital. Eight staff rushed around giving a hand to the hospital staff who had to
face 42 injured. The hospital did not have enough antibiotics, pain-killers, serum
and dressing. Licadho staff also registered the names of those who had been seriously
injured, of who would be scarred or disabled for life. So as not to forget once the
rage is gone.
At KNP headquarters across town, Sam Rainsy and his deputy Khieu Rada lit incense
as the remains of three bodies - Rainsy's bodyguard, an old man and a teenage student
- were unloaded from a truck along with a cardboard box containing the remains of
a girl's legs. As Rainsy cried, a man came up and opened the box for a look.
Back at the National Assembly, the last bodies had been cleared but the traces remained.
People came to look at the broken bench, the blood on the sidewalk. In the park in
front of Wat Botum, a sugarcane lady, who had been crying several hours earlier,
was still crying.