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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - CMAC sets capital aflutter

CMAC sets capital aflutter

P ARENTS, children and shopkeepers were not the only ones in panic in the wake

of the May 30 explosions at the Cambodia Mine Action Center training center near

Pochentong airport. The corridors of the CMAC headquarters were awash with adrenaline,

as the humanitarian organization's staff manned damage control positions.

 

By the end of the following week, two people were suspended, relevant government

ministries were assured that they would be notified in the future and all detonations

at the training center were ordered to cease.

The drama began at 8.30 that Friday morning when 44 charges of TNT exploded around

the Korb Srov training center's grounds in four ten-minute intervals during a demining

course.

"We gave notice to the district chief and the commander of the military police

in Korb Srov three days before the exercise," said CMAC chief of staff Phan

Sothy.

"We were using different charges than we usually do. We ran out of 225gm

C4 charges and were using 250gm of TNT instead. They were much louder ".

Atmospheric condition-low cloud cover and wind direction-were also cited as factors

why Phnom Penh residents could hear what sounded like shelling in the direction of

Pochentong airport.

In fact, individual explosions were set off by two-man teams, part of a basic

demining course for 88 trainees, which included former Khmer Rouge guerrillas.

Ironically, former KR who came with the best of intentions were inadvertently

doing what they had been trained to do before their defection-frightening people

in government-held areas.

In the ensuing panic, many Phnom Penh schools were abruptly closed, parents racing

to pick up their children, shopkeepers barricaded themselves in their buildings and

roads were deadlocked as people hurried to find their loved ones.

"We have to learn from our mistakes," said Sothy. "We will inform

the Ministries of Defense and Interior in the future and will move training away

from the city. There will be no more detonations at the old training center. We will

do it at our new location in Kampong Chhnang when it is ready."

"The chief trainer and the chief of operations were suspended for three months

and demoted three grades, but the decision is still in discussion and we will re-evaluate

it next month," said CMAC assistant director Niem Chouleng.

Initially, the official response was that it was merely an atmospheric and technical

anomoly and that CMAC staff were not at fault. Chouleng declined to give a reason

for the suspension, referring the matter to director Sam Sotha who was unavailable

for comment at Post press time.

Khmer-language newspapers-particularly Funcinpec-linked ones, which blamed the

CPP-aligned Minister of Information and CMAC chairman Ieng Mouly-had a field day

with the story the following week.

On June 6, Khmer Neutral Press charged that the investigation had become politicized

and that elements of the CMAC leadership were attempting to split the organization

and were recruiting and promoting people without regard to their qualifications.

"There is no meaning in this. We are still working closely together,"

maintained Chouleng. "We at CMAC are one. There are no divisions."

He denied that politics have anything to do with the investigation and implored

the press to excercise self-restraint.

"Make sure you write that it is not political. I assure you that CMAC is

one. The reality is not the same as that article," he said. "CMAC is for

all Cambodian people. People can write what they want, but they have to think about

the organization."

Meanwhile, an American 500 pound bomb was reported to CMAC this week in Kompong

Speu and the organization is seeking authorization from the Defense and interior

ministries to destroy it. "We have to approach it this way to avoid a situation

like May 30," said Sothy.

The bomb will have to be detonated where they found it, because it is too dangerous

to transport a further distance from the capital.

" We will have to create a big mound to make the noise as small as possible,"

said Sothy.

He noted, however, that making loud noises is an unavoidable part of CMAC's activities.

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