Prime Minister Hun Sen, who lost an eye while fighting for the Khmer Rouge just a day before the ultra-communists took power, on Thursday called for an end to discrimination against the disabled.
“For me, I also cannot make my left eye see again,” Mr. Hun Sen told the families of more than 250 disabled veterans in Siem Reap province ahead of the Khmer New Year.
“The eye we used to love cannot be returned to us, but we can try to stand up to prevent ourselves falling into a situation of suffering with physical and mental disabilities,” he said.
Mr. Hun Sen lost his eye during the battle for Phnom Penh on April 16, 1975. The following day, his Khmer Rouge comrades took control of the city and the country. In the ensuing four years, an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians died from execution, starvation and disease.
The premier rose through the ranks of the Khmer Rouge before eventually fleeing and helping overthrow the regime alongside Vietnamese-backed forces.
He went on to thank his wife, Bun Rany, for sticking by him after his injury and urged the families of wounded veterans to do the same.
“Nieces, nephews and grandchildren should be proud of your fathers who have sacrificed fresh flesh and blood for the motherland and the people’s happiness that is existing today,” he said.
He also took aim at political foes who have mocked his injury.
“There are still some people who call me ‘a blind man.’ That is very crude language,” he said. “It does not just affect me, but it hurts those who are blind.”
Citing government leadership, Mr. Hun Sen said the hardships of the country’s disabled today pale in comparison to the circumstances surrounding his injury.
“For my experience of becoming a person with a disability and losing my eye in the most difficult circumstances of the Pol Pot regime, it is unlike today’s situation where our disabled veterans get the government’s attention, especially from the CPP,” he said.
Less than 4 percent of disabled Cambodians receive any form of financial assistance from the government, according to a report released by Australian researchers last year.
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