When someone threw grenades into a crowd of peaceful demonstrators on March 30, 1997, journalist Chan Mony paid a big price for doing his job.
Three pieces of shrapnel pierced his left eye, nearly blinding him. And though Chan Mony felt lucky at first—he had survived, while at least 16 others died—his luck has recently run thin.
Nearly four years after the attack, his injury has flared up again, requiring additional medical treatment. Chan Mony can’t begin to pay for it. The newspaper he worked for when he was hurt, the Kampuchea Thngay Nih (Cambodia Today), paid for the initial treatment, but the paper went out of business.
His friends are passing the hat for him, trying to raise enough money to pay for treatment. He is in constant pain, but he does not want his eye removed.
“I don’t want to be blind,” said Chan Mony, 33.
If the infection does not subside by Monday, doctors said, they will remove the eye.
Leaning against a pillar beneath his wooden house in Ang Soeng village, Takeo province, Chan Mony recalled the last seconds before the Mar 30 explosion that changed his life.
It was early morning, and several hundred people had gathered on Sothearos Boulevard, just across from the National Assembly, to protest judicial corruption.
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy had just begun to speak and Chan Mony was taking his picture when he saw a grenade rolling towards him. It was
2 meters away when it exploded.
The blast was so powerful he fell to the ground, dazed. He heard two more explosions and the screaming of panicked demonstrators as they tried to run.
Chan Mony’s right leg was broken. Blood poured from his left eye. He crawled as best he could towards the others.
Two friends, reporters for Koh Santepheap (Island of Peace) and Rasmei Kampuchea (Light of Cambodia), found him and quickly applied a tourniquet to his thigh.
“They were so clever, acting like they were on a battlefield,” he said. “If they had not tied my thigh, I probably would not have lived.”
In the chaos that followed the explosions, he lay on the floor at Calmette Hospital for six hours, until he was found by his editor and Khieu Kanharith, secretary of state for the Information Ministry.
They got the doctors to look at him. But the doctors said they didn’t have the know-how to treat the eye injury, and that he would have to seek treatment abroad.
Chan Mony’s newspaper was owned by the Ganad-Khmer Publishing Co Ltd, a subsidiary of the Malaysia-based Ganad Publishing Sdn Bhd.
The company paid to fly him to Malaysia, where his leg and eye were treated. The cost, he said, was enormous. “I am so indebted to my old company for this.”
Kampuchea Thngay Nih folded in 1998, and Chan Mony went to work for the Evening News. Later that year, he risked his safety again when he covered post-election street fights between supporters of the CPP and its opponents.
“I was in a very bad situation,” he said. But, he said he did not worry about his safety, because he loved his job.
“Journalism is something I have dreamed about doing, and I have done well in it,” he said. “I have been physically maimed but not mentally. My heart is still in journalism.”
Today Chan Mony is recovering from an operation performed at Preah Ang Duong Hospital in Phnom Penh. Doctors donated their time in an attempt to relieve pressure building inside his eye, but they are not sure the operation will be successful.
His friends raised some money for the doctors at Preah Ang Duong, but they have no hope of raising all the money needed for the operation. The treatment cost $15,000 four years ago.
He speaks no English, so has no way of contacting the Malaysians who helped him the last time around. He knows that the logical solution is probably to remove the eye, to stop the pain and eliminate the possibility of infection.
But he still hopes to find another way out.
Meanwhile, the fourth anniversary of the grenade attack nears, and no one has been arrested. “If the government was strongly willing, they could have arrested the suspects a long time ago,” he said. “But they are not.”
He called on the government to solve the case.
“Enough is enough. We must stop violence in our society. Peace is there, we should strengthen it with our strong commitment,” he said.
”My injury, if it gets worse, can damage my life and that of my three children. But I am lucky. I lived. A lot of people died, and they want justice.”