Two Cambodian Deminers Die in Battambang Minefield

Two Cambodian demining experts were killed in Battambang province’s Samlot district on Saturday after detonating an anti-tank mine while carrying out clearance work in the former Khmer Rouge stronghold, police said.

Phin Nout, 30, and Chhum Chhay, 44, were killed instantly when the men—working with U.K.-based organization HALO Trust—inadvertently triggered the mine while cutting grass in the mine field at 10:30 a.m., said provincial military police commander Eam Seng Oeun.

“The two men were killed by an anti-tank mine shortly before the end of their shift at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday and their bodies have been returned to their families for funeral ceremonies,” Mr. Seng Oeun said.

HALO Trust Cambodia program manager Adam Jasinski on Sunday expressed his sorrow following the deaths of Phin Nout and Chhum Chhay, who worked for the NGO since 2004 and 2008 respectively, and said the organization was offering its support to the families.

“Both men were greatly respected members of the HALO Trust team who had dedicated many years to ridding Cambodia of the threat of landmines,” he said.

“An investigation to determine the cause of the accident is currently underway in conjunction with the Cambodian Mine Action Authority and HALO will ensure that any lessons learnt are shared with the Cambodian Mine Action community.”

Mines and UXO have killed more than 19,000 Cambodians and wounded about 45,000 more since 1979, however casualties have been falling steadily in recent years. A total of 111 casualties including 22 deaths last year was by far the lowest annual figure on record, however parts of the country remain blighted by the legacy of decades of war.

Samlot district police chief Ly Buoy said HALO Trust has about 40 deminers working in the district, which was a final battleground for Khmer Rouge insurgents and continues to register frequent casualties from landmines and unexploded ordnance.

“Since the beginning of the year, four villagers have been killed and more injured by exploding mines while out farming and plowing with tractors, but this time the fatalities are our HALO Trust deminers,” Mr. Buoy said.

While uncommon, several accidents over recent years have resulted in the death or maiming of demining experts. In January 2013, four American deminers were badly injured when a UXO exploded at a training center in Kompong Chhnang province.

And in June, an explosives removal specialist was killed and two others were seriously injured in an accidental explosion at a mine storage warehouse in Koh Kong province used by HALO Trust Cambodia, when a UXO detonated as the men tried to move it.

HALO Trust has worked in Cambodia since 1991 and employs more than 1,000 national staff working in four provinces. According to its website, by 2012 it had cleared more than 8,400 hectares of landmine contaminated land and destroyed more than 256,000 landmines.

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