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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - First CMAC death fulfills wife's tragic premonition

First CMAC death fulfills wife's tragic premonition

T HE pictures show a twisted body, covered in dust and blood. The man's face,

half missing, is turned from the camera, frozen in the last, unconscious moment

of life.

It was the same picture Chea Hap's wife, Heng Sokun carried in

her mind for four days before his death.

Each night, she dreamed of his

death. Convinced her premonition would come true, she visited the local temple

to pray and asked the monks to perform a ceremony to chase away any bad spirits

that might harm Hap as he worked at a Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC)

demining site near Sisophon.

She never got the chance to hold the

ceremony.

When the lunch whistle blew at 10:57 am on March 8, Hap turned

to walk to the end of his mine clearing lane. Dizzy, tired, worried about his

youngest son who was at home sick, the deminer took one step and fainted

head-first onto an uncleared patch of ground.

The 32-year-old father of

three died instantly when his face hit a Chinese-made PMN-2 mine. He was CMAC's

first mine death.

Major Dan Kelly, the site supervisor, delivered the

news to Hap's wife and family.

"Normally the demines get home around 3

O'clock. We couldn't get out to tell her until 3:30. But she already knew. She

was waiting for us,"

Hap had been on the job less than five months. His

CMAC personnel file is nearly empty, except for a collection of gruesome photos

and the report of his death.

"In the morning he told his friends that his

son was sick and he did not sleep that well. He did not bring food with him that

day. He was drowsy," says Prak Sokhon, CMAC's chief of personnel and

administration.

"He did not feel well, but this friends say he dared not

ask permission of the field medic because there was already one of the men in

his group who was sick.... he kept working."

March was nit a good month

for the CMAC safety record.

On March 2 - for reasons that are still

unclear - a deminer in Battambang stepped out of his demining lane and lost half

his foot to a mine. No compensation report has been filed yet at CMAC

headquarters and staff say the explanation of the accident remains

vague.

The day before, in Kampot, Kong Sam Oeun was trying to mark a mine

when he lost his balance on uneven ground and fell face-down.

"He

swerved, trying to avoid the mine, and fell with the side of his face," states

the CMAC report of the accident. Ouen, who remains in hospital, lost one eye and

will almost certainly be blind in the other. The extent of any brain injury is

still not known.

On Feb. 6, another deminer, Sok Ly, 37, injured one eye

when he prodded too heavily on a mine. He was not wearing safety

glasses.

Despite the fact that CMAC director Ieng Mouly is also

Information Minister, the centre has made no public announcement of the death or

injuries.

"If it's worth mentioning, CMAC will publish a communique. It

was not felt that it was worth mentio-ning," said Lt. Col Serge Léveillé, CMAC's

chief technical adviser. "Certainly there are many more soldiers being injured

than CMAC deminers."

The lack of reporting has prompted some grumbling

among other demining organization, who are waiting to find out the details so

they can train their staff to not make the same mistakes.

Léveillé

insisted CMAC was not trying to keep the accidents quiet before the March 13-15

donors meeting in Paris where the centre hoped to get $8 million.

"We

didn't do it because we wanted to hide it. It has nothing to do with that. Any

demining organi-zation will have accidents."

Two staff of the British

demining organization Halo Trust were injured Jan 30 at a small site east of

Siem Reap. One was probing too vigorously and hit a booby-trapped B-40 rocket.

He suffered a broken arm, lost teeth and shrapnel in his face. His partner lost

40 per cent vision in one eye.

"It was a procedural error. They were both

very lucky... no matter how hard everyone works and how well they're trained,

human nature is that some people will be hurt and killed," says Tim Porter,

Halo's mission head.

CMAC has not apportioned blame in any of its recent

accidents, but Hap's death and the other injuries have prompted an order that

field staff drink two or three liters of water a day and get at least seven

hours of sleep each night. Deminers have been told that if they are sick, they

must tell the site medic. Hap's widow will receive a $4,000 compensation

payment.

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