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Strength of one family battling against the odds

Strength of one family battling against the odds

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

since.

They share a room with a family of four, and share the hospital's

appalling conditions with about 750 patients and their familes.

They

endure filthy, overflowing toilets, poor electricity and water supplies,

crumbling buildings that leak and a lack of mosquito nets and

mattresses.

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.

Artificial limbs

are not really a possibility, so a wheelchair is her only option.

Soeup

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.

The couple's

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.

His fever

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.

Kiek,

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.

His

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

eight.

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

fighting.

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

was wrong.

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.

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