F OR Ke Soeup and her family, life will never be the same since a landmine robbed
her of her legs.
She was on a trip to fetch rice when a mine buried just
a meter from a rice store did its evil job. Soeup ended up a double amputee, her
son Kiek, aged six, was struck by shrapnel in the head and chest, and another
woman was injured.
That was in Preah Vihear province on Feb 11. Soeup,
her husband and four of their six children were flown to Siem Reap the next day
and later to Phnom Penh. They've been in Phnom Penh's military hospital ever
They share a room with a family of four, and share the hospital's
appalling conditions with about 750 patients and their familes.
endure filthy, overflowing toilets, poor electricity and water supplies,
crumbling buildings that leak and a lack of mosquito nets and
Shortages of bandages and drugs are a constant problem, and
few staff mean families are obliged to live there to look after their injured or
sick relatives. That adds to the overcrowding; at the moment there are 135
children in the hospital with their parents.
If the medical treatment in
Preah Vihear had been better, Ke Soeup might have lost only one leg, but the
initial attempt to operate on her ensured she lost both.
are not really a possibility, so a wheelchair is her only option.
says that after the mine blast she wished she was dead. She still does, but her
husband Koath Sam is adamant she cannot kill herself.
"He won't let me
take poison. He won't let me leave him and our children," she says. Sam, for his
part, has stood by Soeup throughout her ordeal. Devoted to his family, he is
reluctant to leave their side, even to go to the market.
four children with them at the hospital - Dara, one, Kiek, six, Kook, 10, and
Paly, 11 - are suffering too.
Since her injuries, Soeup hasn't been able
to breastfeed Dara, so switched him to a bottle. The boy picked up an infection
and had diarrhea for months. It took two lengthy stays in Kantha Bopha hospital
and the constant care of his parents for his health to improve.
has dropped and his appetite grown, but it will be many months before Dara will
have the strength to learn to walk, as he should have done by now.
the six-year-old boy who was with his mother when she stepped on the mine, bears
scars over his face and chest - it's a miracle his eyes were spared.
parents say he cries very easily but doesn't appear to have bad dreams, though
one can only wonder at the scars within.
Older sister Paly has suffered
chronic headaches for two years. Her parents massage her neck and give her a
medicine which doctors say is unsuitable and dangerous for children. But Ke
Soeup and Koath Sam don't know what else to do.
Soeup has one child aged
15 from an earlier marriage - her first husband was killed by a mine - remaining
in Preah Vihear with her aunt, along with another of the couple's children, aged
Soeup met Kaoth Sam when he was transferred with his army unit
from Svey Rieng to Preah Vihear. They were married in 1983 and Soeup became cook
for a brigade of soldiers.
Days before she fell prey to the mine, she and
other villagers had fled their homes to another village because of
She went to buy rice from a local rice store. After being
assured by the rice merchant that the area was free of mines, she found out he
Ke Soeup says she and her husband want to go back to Preah
Vihear and be with their other children. They won't be able to go until she and
Dara are stronger and there is room on a military plane. For now, their home
will remain a hospital room.