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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 May, 2004, 22:53 GMT 23:53 UK
Life after a Cambodian landmine
Top Vanna
Top Vanna is just one of many Cambodians injured by landmines
Top Vanna is a 34-year-old Cambodian with a wife, two children and a job as a street seller - but like thousands of other Cambodians, he has been badly disabled by one of the many landmines littering the country. He told the BBC's Kate McGeown his story.

It happened in 1988. I was a government soldier in command of three or four men near Banon village, in the western province of Battambang.

It was a mad time. There were three separate resistance groups - the Khmer Rouge, supporters of King Sihanouk, and those following (former premier) Son Sann.

I didn't actually want to be a soldier. In fact only about half of us wanted to do the job - many people were forced to fight against their will.

I wanted to kill myself. There was no future for me. What could I do? How could I get a job, get married, support my family?
Top Vanna
On the morning of the accident, I'd been training new recruits on jungle warfare techniques and survival skills.

I was taking a break from training when it happened. I went to get some food, but there was thick foliage all around us, and I had to clear a path to get through.

I bent over to pick up something in the way - how was I to know it would go off?

I don't remember much else after that. When I woke up, I looked down and saw that both my hands had gone.

I wanted to kill myself - take away my own life. There was no future for me. What could I do? How could I get a job, get married, support my family? How could I even eat?

Top Vanna working at his stall
Top Vanna now runs his own book stall in Siem Reap
There was a grenade in a bag attached to my waist. It was there from the training exercise earlier.

I arched my body round and tried to reach it. I wanted to pull out the pin, but my friend saw me just in time and took the grenade away.

I was taken to a government hospital in Phnom Penh, where the authorities paid for my treatment because I was a soldier. I didn't have enough to eat, though, and my family had to send me food parcels.

Gradually, after the pain subsided, I stopped wanting to kill myself and dared to think about having a future.

I was in that hospital for nine months. When I eventually left, I was too embarrassed to go back to my family and let them feed me and pay for me.

So I stayed in Phnom Penh and became a beggar there for over a year. I was very unhappy during that time.

My mother eventually came to the city to find me, and she took me home and looked after me.

Top Vanna and his family
Life has improved since he married and started work
But I had to go back to Phnom Penh for more treatment on my arms, and I used up all my money on hospital bills and ended up back on the streets.

This time an aid worker found me and brought me to Siem Reap.

I was given a job working with Rehab Craft Cambodia (run by and for Cambodians with disabilities), selling local crafts and gifts to tourists visiting the temples at Angkor Wat.

Life was beginning to get better - I got married and now have two children.

But I really wanted my own business, so in 2000 I gave up my job with the charity to set up my own stall selling books on the streets of Siem Reap.

I'm very happy now I have this job. Life is worth living again. But there are many others who are still suffering as a result of the landmines, both here in Siem Reap and throughout Cambodia.




SEE ALSO:
Amputee de-miners of Cambodia
15 Nov 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Cambodia's landmine victims
11 Nov 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Khmer Rouge's legacy of fear
24 May 03  |  Asia-Pacific


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