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Teenaged deserter vows to fight again

Teenaged deserter vows to fight again

T RENG-Four years ago Ravuth was a pupil at the Baktouk school in Phnom Penh. His

mother is a gold dealer and his father a trader of second-hand cars. One day,

his parents got angry at him for loosing his motorbike, watch and gold necklace

while gambling with friends.

He said his parents blamed him and he got

hot-blooded.

"I got angry and was ashamed of my friends, then I ran into

the army," Ravuth, just 16, said.

Mobilized into a mortar unit at the

front lines, 7 km from Pailin, Ravuth was proud as he told of the government

advance on KR strongholds, assuming victory was at hand.

"We exchanged

insults with the Khmer Rouge everyday on radio. We called them traitors of the

nation and they called us the first puppet and the second puppet," Ravuth

said.

He was frustrated when asked about his latest salary saying "We

have not been given any salary for four months already.

He and his two

friends decided to go AWOL after his units took control of Phnom Doh Kromom and

Phnom Kon Damrei.

When asked if they were afraid of mines, Ravuth said

"There is no more fear for me. There is only bad luck or good luck. I would not

have run if I have been paid."

The three privates said 18 KR were

captured, but one was executed as he refused to guide government troops

forward.

"The other 17 KR were scared when we shot dead the strong-headed

one. Then they agreed to guide us and we tied them up and put them on the

tanks," they said.

Of the deserter's14-strong mortar unit, only four men

were still in good shape. The rest were either killed, injured or sick from

malaria and dehydration because water in the area had been poisoned by the KR.

Ravuth was hit by shrapnel in the left leg during crossfire. He said he

was on his way tohis family in Phnom Penh. "I already vowed to Neak Ta (jungle

spirit) that I will not give up fighting until I see Pailin," he said.

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