US navy repairing Cambodian relations, one villager at a time

Other News Materials 13 October 2008 10:32 (UTC +04:00)

Hundreds of Cambodians have flocked to visit a free US military clinic set up during the visit of the destroyer USS Mustin, officials said Wednesday.

The 155-metre-long USS Mustin (DDG-89), an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, arrived with its crew of nearly 300 to embark on a six-day goodwill mission Saturday and its medical crew is expected to have treated nearly 1,000 people by Wednesday, the US navy said, reported dpa.

The clinic includes free dental treatment and general medicine and has set up in a Buddhist pagoda in a poor fishing area called Prey Nop, which also has a high number of ethnic Muslim Cham.

"It's been very rewarding and diverse," said US naval doctor Mike Banforth, who said most patients were presenting with conditions easily treated with medication that they were just too poor to afford.

The goodwill visit - the third since war stopped US naval visits in 1975 - will also feature training programmes with Cambodian naval personnel and demonstration operations, including disaster rescue.

US-Cambodian relations are at a high not seen for decades, and the US has pledged continued humanitarian aid as well as non-lethal military assistance to the country's armed forces.

For Vong Bok, 45, part of a community where 40 per cent of the 5,000-strong population live under the poverty line, free medical care has won him over to the US, which many Cambodians still resent for its secret bombing raids of the 1970s and the subsequent rise of the Khmer Rouge, under which up to 2 million Cambodians died.

"I could never afford this. I welcome the US ship back anytime," said Bok after receiving medicine for a chest infection.

Prey Nop, a district of the southern seaport of Sihanoukville, is 240 kilometres from the capital Phnom Penh.