When Tann Phearoth received a telephone call from Central African Republic (CAR) early on Tuesday morning, she thought it would be her husband. Since becoming a U.N. peacekeeper four years ago, Im Sam had regularly phoned his wife while on overseas missions.
“It was not his call,” she said in a phone interview from Siem Reap on Thursday. “It was a Cambodian commander based in Central African Republic, who told me that my husband had been killed.”
“It shocked me seriously, and I could not speak and felt like my throat was choking,” she said.
Her husband was among four Cambodian peacekeepers killed during an ambush in southeast CAR on Monday night, believed by the U.N. to have been carried out by the Christian “anti-Balaka” militia group. The other three peacekeepers who died were Seang Norint, Mom Tola and Mao Eng.
The rebels had been attempting to free comrades who had been detained by Moroccan forces working with Cambodian troops, the National Center for Peacekeeping Forces, Mines and ERW Clearance has said.
Ms. Phearoth, 34, married Im Sam in 2013, and they have a 3-year-old son.
Her husband was posted to Mali first before being sent late last year to CAR, which has been plagued by conflict since 2013.
She said she did not know when her husband’s body would be returned—the government said on Wednesday that the four bodies would arrive in the country within two weeks—or what kind of compensation her family would receive.
For Chhay Chamroeun, 33, the loss of Mao Eng, her husband and the father of her three children, has been profound.
“Since I got the news that he died, I have been crying every day,” she said.
“Most importantly, I do not have any idea what I should do to make a living to feed my three children, because I had relied on him to support the family,” she added.
Mao Eng had been part of an engineering team, not a combat team, she said, “so it’s really cruel for the rebels to take my husband’s life.”
Ms. Chamroeun said her husband was in Sudan for a year before being deployed to CAR.
“I hope the U.N. can help my children for their study and our family’s economy,” she said.
Malinda Kosal, a spokeswoman for the U.N.’s National Center for Peacekeeping Forces, said the deceased peacekeepers’ families should receive $70,000 each from the U.N., and the payments would arrive in a month or two.
Additionally, the Cambodian Red Cross donated 20 million riel, or about $5,000, as well as 200 kg of rice, 50 cans of fish, five boxes of noodles and 10 boxes of soft drinks, to Ms. Chamroeun last night, according to a post on a Facebook page for Bun Rany, the group’s head and Prime Minister Hun Sen’s wife.
A separate post also claims to have donated the same amount of money at a funeral for Seang Norint, which was held in Phnom Penh’s Tuol Kok district on Thursday, despite the peacekeeper’s body still being in transit.
The post added that the other families would receive the same donations.
(Additional reporting by Hannah Hawkins)
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