The government has stopped paying the medical bills for popular singer Touch Srey Nich, who remains in a Bangkok hospital after an Oct 21 shooting left her paralyzed from the neck down, a government official said.
Council of Ministers spokesman Khieu Thavika told Voice of America radio on Monday that the government will no longer pay for the singer’s hospital costs, as it had earlier promised. But he did not state why.
“Starting from today on, Touch Srey Nich’s family must be responsible [for her bill],” Khieu Thavika said in an interview with VOA. “I have finished my mission already.”
He added the government would only pay for two months of her treatment. Touch Srey Nich has been at the Bangkok hospital for nearly three months.
The 24-year-old singer was airlifted there hours after she was shot twice in the face and once in the neck by unknown attackers as she was exiting a flower shop on Monireth Boulevard near Mao Tse-tung Boulevard in Phnom Penh.
Her mother, Kim Sinoun, 59, was also shot in the incident and died soon after arriving at Calmette Hospital the same day.
The day of the shooting, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s adviser Om Yentieng had announced the government would pay for Touch Srey Nich’s medical costs. At the time, the government had also ordered Khieu Thavika to be in charge of Touch Srey Nich’s care.
Khieu Thavika told VOA that the singer’s family will also have to decide whether to send her to France for further treatment. The government had earlier considered sending her to a hospital there, but decided the costs would be too high.
Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith, however, on Tuesday said the government would continue footing her hospital bills.
“Who is funding her currently is the government,” he said, but declined to reveal how much it has spent on Touch Srey Nich’s treatment.
Radio Free Asia on Sunday reported that an unnamed official said her medical bills had climbed to $70,000.
Om Yentieng said Tuesday he did not know whether the government would continue funding her treatment.
Touch Srey Nich’s godsister, Seng Phose, declined to comment.
Film star Tep Rindaro, who used to appear at performances with Touch Srey Nich, criticized the government over Khieu Thavika’s announcement that it would cease its financial support.
“I want the government to continue funding Touch Srey Nich’s treatment because the hospital is very expensive,” he said. “Touch Srey Nich has served our nation and culture and many audiences.”
He said film stars and singers in Cambodia are not protected under any performance art associations and thus, cannot help each other when they run into trouble.
Mu Sochua, minister of Women’s and Veterans’ Affairs, echoed Tep Rindaro’s comments.
She said she was very concerned that the singer’s family may not have enough money to pay the hospital bills.
Earlier this week, Mu Sochua said Thai doctors told her Touch Srey Nich could require years of treatment and that septicemia, a blood infection caused by toxins from the bullet wounds, has made her susceptible to other infections.
“She must not be sent back to Cambodia because Cambodian doctors are qualified, but they don’t have enough modern materials,” Mu Sochua said.