Lost the legs while helping his parents

by John Einar Sandvand on February 14, 2009

Chan Theth (14) stepped on a mine when helping his parents find wood

It took just one wrong step – and Chan Theth (14) was yet another person on the long list of mine victims in Cambodia.

This is the story of a young boy who wanted to help his parents build a new house for the family. One day they went to the forest to find wood for the construction.

Suddenly a land mine exploded under then 12 year old Theth – destroying his legs and injuring four other family members as well.

In fractions of a second his future had changed.

I met Theth this week in Psar Phrum, a border village close to Thailand. He is 14 years old now and was trying hard to see a future for himself.
- I dream of becoming a doctor, he told me.
But he knew how difficult that might be. Not only is his family extremely poor. He has also a physical handicap which will take enormous energy on his behalf to overcome.

He doesn’t remember much of the accident today, besides that the whole family was going into the forest to find woods for their new house.  His parents noticed that there were tracks close by and therefore thought that the forest area had been cleared of mines.

They were wrong.

Theth was the one who stepped on the mine and also had the biggest injuries. One of his legs was ripped off immediately; the other had to be amputated in the hospital. The young boy was sent to a hospital in Thailand for treatment. He was in great pain.

Chan Theth lost both of his legs in a mine accident.

Also his mother and father, little brother and aunt were injured in the mine accident. His father lost one of his eyes, while the others were luckier and got away with scars in their skin.

Theth and his family lives in a small and extremely simple hut on top of a hill.  The track up to the hut is full of rocks and Theth told me it is impossible for him to make his way up on his own with the wheel chair. Usually his little brother will have to push.

Theth has also been given prosthesises for his legs and is able to move around on his own. Within limits, of course.

- I feel unhappy when I see that all my friends can run around as they please, he said.

Chan Theth lost both his legs in a mine accident

Psar Phrum is just by the border to Thailand and an area which was controlled by Khmer Rouge for several decades. Only as late as 1996 this area surrended to government control – and a number of powerful positions with the local authorities are still held by former Khmer Rouge commanders.

It is also one of the most heavily mined areas of Cambodia. Most probably the mine Theth stepped on was put there by Khmer Rouge in order to stop government attacks during the civil war.

Yet when I asked Theth about who might had placed the mine there, he had absolutely no idea.

- Could it have been Pol Pot‘s soldiers? I asked, assuming that a Cambodian teenager would know this name.

- I have no idea who Pol Pot was, Theth replied.

- What about Khmer Rouge?

- I have not heard about them either.

Let me add a note to this:

The recent political history is still a very touchy topic in Cambodia. The fact that at teenage boy living in the middle of a former Khmer Rouge stronghold does not even know who Pol Pot was, demonstrates how little children in this country are taught in schools about the brutal historic trauma of their country. Another example of how Cambodia still struggles to come to grips with its past is how the process around the international tribunal to try former Khmer Rouge leaders have dragged on. Adding to the complexity is the fact that prime minister Hun Sen and other members of the government at one time served as Khmer Rounge commanders themselves.

This is a topic I will write more about in Cambodia Tales later.

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