Buth Reaksmey Kongkea
THREE de-mining experts from the Cambodian Mine Action Centre were killed over the weekend in Kampong Speu province when several hundred shells that they were storing temporarily exploded, officials said yesterday.
The accident took place at about 10am on Saturday morning next to the chicken coop behind one of the CMAC staff members’ homes in Rakar Thom village, located in Chbar Mon district’s Rakar Thom commune.
The de-miners had taken 372 unexploded 57mm Khmer Rouge shells from a CMAC warehouse in Kampong Speu province, planning to destroy them at a designated site this week, CMAC director-general Heng Ratana said yesterday.
“It was a holiday, so they took them to Yoeun Sopheap’s house to store temporarily in order to destroy them during the work week,” he said.
“While they were arranging the UXOs at the place, some UXOs hit each other hard, causing a small fire,” Heng Ratana said, adding that the men attempted in vain to douse the flames with water from a clay urn.
The fire caused other shells to explode, engulfing the men in flames. “They were burnt all over their bodies,” Heng Ratana said.
Yoeun Sopheap, a 47-year-old team leader for CMAC, died from burns at his house. Supervisor Sok Him, 46, and staffer Hoeun Kimsea, 40, both also died from burns after being taken to the provincial hospital.
All three were experienced staff who had worked for CMAC in Kampong Speu for many years, Heng Ratana added.
“This is a mistake because so far we have not allowed any CMAC staff or officers to store UXOs at their houses. To prevent this from happening again, we will strictly control both storage areas and how mines and UXOs are delivered for their destruction,” he said.
Keo Pisey, provincial police chief, said the bodies had been returned to their families for funerals.
During the first three months of this year, 11 people were killed in 61 different incidents involving mines and UXO, a decrease of about 10 percent from the same period last year, Heng Ratana said.