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