Second Deminer Killed in Less Than a Week

A veteran deminer was killed near the Thai border on Monday in the second such death in four days, officials said on Wednesday, even as recent data showed a steep drop in overall casualties caused by landmines and unexploded ordnance.

Sous Yoeun, a 38-year-old expert working with the military’s National Center for Peacekeeping Forces Management, Mines and Explosive Remnants of War Clearance (NPEMEC), was killed instantly on Monday while trying to clear a landmine buried under a large tree in Pailin province, according to Sala Krao district police chief Nhek Thol.

A danger sign marks a minefield that was being cleared by the Cambodian Mine Action Center in Battambang province in April. (Enric Catala)

Mr. Thol attributed the death, which occurred in Stung Kach commune’s O’Cher Krom village, about 1 kilometer from the heavily mined Thai border, to a “technical error.”

While the majority of landmines have been cleared, there are still landmines along the border, he said on Wednesday.

NPEMEC deputy director-general Phal Samorn said Sous Yoeun had worked with the group since 1998, including a yearlong stint in 2006 as a member of the U.N. Peacekeeping Forces in Sudan, and was one of 29 NPEMEC deminers who had been working in the region since August.

“This mine site has the most obstacles,” he said, citing the difficulty in uncovering Russian-made anti-personnel mines buried in the 1980s from the roots of a mature tree.

“When a tree is big, it has more roots. When there are more roots, it is one of the major obstacles for deminers,” he said, adding that he believed Sous Yoeun must have accidently struck a mine while digging.

The fatality occurred three days after Loeung Reaksmey, a 55-year-old deminer from the NGO Halo Trust, died in another landmine explosion in the province while attempting to clear a field of explosives laid by the Khmer Rouge.

Provincial police chief Chea Chandin said many mostly Chinese- and Russian-made anti-personnel mines were buried along an accessible 39 km stretch of the border during the government’s war with the Khmer Rouge and other forces.

Mr. Samorn said he would replace the current deminers operating in the area who had been shaken up by the death—NPEMEC’s first in the province—with a fresh group.

“We will deploy new forces, and we need to remind and train them about facing these experiences,” he said.

The deaths come amid an overall decrease in fatalities caused by unexploded ordnance and landmines that have continued to blight Cambodia’s recovery decades after the end of war. Last year marked the first since the Khmer Rouge fell that casualties dropped below 100.

There is still much demining work left to do. A report released by the U.N. predicted Cambodia would miss a 2025 deadline for clearing the country’s mines because organizations were spending too much time and resources on areas that were not heavily mined.

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