M EAN Mara, 26, should never have been in the taxi from Kratie to Snoul on Feb 3.
There were seven passengers and a driver, and Mara was squashed in the back seat.
The young mother-of-one had set off the find her husband, who had stormed off after
a quarrel and had taken much of the family's possessions. Locals don't like travelling
the road south to Snoul because of security problems, but Mara was in such a state
she hadn't given it a thought.
All she heard was a bang. Sometime later she woke up in hospital. Someone - most
say it the Khmer Rouge - fired a B40 rocket at the car and it killed everyone but
Mara. It was a massacre that didn't make it to the press at the time.
Somehow she has survived her horrific injuries. Her right eye is still welded shut,
and a deep scar runs from the bridge of her nose into the corner of her eye and up
her forehead. Doctors at Kratie hospital say that she will keep her sight. They say
she was very lucky because "brain matter" was seeping from another open
wound in her head when she was brought in.
She says she will never find another husband looking the way she does; nor does she
think she can work now to raise her one-year-old son Soth, because the tendons have
been cut in her right hand. Mean's mother was at her bedside, saying she would take
care of her daughter and grandson.
"But I'm lucky, because I'm the only one who survived."
Other patients at Kratie hospital bear testiment to the wild nature of the country
both north of Kratie town to Stung Treng, and south-east to the Snoul district. One
woman lies in a bed with serious head injuries, having been shot by a drunken soldier.
Roth Buntheung, a 26-year-old policeman, was shot through the pelvis by a Khmer Rouge
soldier who had just captured Buntheung and his police partner. Buntheung played
dead and lived; his partner was later found hacked to death in a forest.
Kratie hospital is a very professional looking place. Medicine Sans Frontiers (MSF)
- which with the USAid-funded AICF and Save the Children (UK) are the only three
foreign NGOs based in Kratie - has built one new ward, is finishing two others and
plans to renovate a fourth. There are thirteen wards now in Kratie hospital, including
maternity, pediatric, a tuberculosis ward and a dentist. People are coming from Kompong
Cham to be treated, as much because the treatment is still free in the meantime.
MSF staff say that the project is one of the most successful the NGO has undertaken
in Cambodia. MSF has also started a clinic in Prek Prasak district, and has built
another hospital in Sambor which was recently opened by the King.
"Before the elections were only had about five patients a day," said trainee
surgeon Lem Dara, "now we have 115 patients, 13 doctors, ten medical assistants
and 150 staff."
Rick Schroeder of AICF now has about 40 Khmer staff, and has a heavy workload building
water pumps and latrines for villagers both in Kratie and beyond as far as Sambor.
The Phnom Penh-based Community Aid Abroad also work in the province, building schools
and providing education training.