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Injured US deminers remain in serious conditions

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Three Americans receive treatment on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2013, following a unexploded ordnance blast. Photograph supplied

A day after an explosion at a Kampong Chhnang demining training centre wounded four American trainers, three remained in serious condition after being flown to a Thai hospital, doctors said yesterday.

The men, who collectively suffered injuries to their faces, arms, legs and internal organs when a piece of unexploded ordnance (UXO) they were disarming exploded, were evacuated on Tuesday night and yesterday afternoon from two hospitals in Phnom Penh to Bangkok’s highly regarded Bumrungrad International Hospital.

Calmette Hospital officials said the most critically injured of the three could not be airlifted until yesterday afternoon, when he had stabilised following an emergency operation there on Tuesday night to staunch internal bleeding.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, sources at Bumrungrad confirmed the men had arrived.

Both men who were evacuated from Royal Rattanak Hospital Tuesday night spent hours in the operating room and were stable and in recovery as of yesterday evening.

Three marines and a US contractor employed by the demining NGO Golden West Humanitarian Foundation were injured in the Tuesday blast, US Embassy spokesman John Simmons said yesterday.

The contractor suffered multiple injuries to his chest, abdomen and leg, according to a doctor at Royal Rattanak and underwent a three-hour operation with “no complications”, said a nurse at Bamrungrad. The other man to be sent from Royal Rattanak last night suffered a neck injury, for which he was operated on yesterday afternoon.

No information was forthcoming on the most critically injured of the marines, though Simmons confirmed he had arrived in Bangkok. The fourth man was airlifted from Calmette Hospital on Tuesday night after being treated for broken bones in his hand and lacerations.

Heng Ratana, director general of the Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC) – which was hosting the month-long training program that began just one day before the accident – said the organisation would launch an internal investigation.

 “We will co-ordinate with other departments or related people … We are not limited as long we can find the facts. I believe it’s not really hard to find out, because the people involved in the incident are still alive and some only minorly wounded,” he said.

Based on the initial reports, however, Ratana said it seemed unlikely any wrongdoing had occurred.

“This is a common practice, that the expert handles the UXO like that... They have to use their skills to make that kind of judgment.”

The Post is withholding the names of the injured men it has confirmed as some of their families have yet to be notified.

All four were highly experienced deminers, and had planned to spend weeks training 30 CMAC employees. The three marines, based in Okinawa, Japan, had arrived in Cambodia less than a week ago for the volunteer mission.  

On Thursday, a day before touching down in Cambodia, one of the youngest members of the team posted a Facebook message about his impending trip. 

His friends weighed in.

“Be safe,” three wrote.

To contact the reporter on this story: Abby Seiff at abby.seiff@phnompenhpost.com

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