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UXO toll on accelerated pace

An elderly woman was killed and five people were seriously injured when a rocket-propelled grenade exploded inside a house in Kampong Thom province’s Kampong Svay commune on Friday morning, a senior district official said.

Events leading up to the detonation suggest that one person in the group was attempting to pry the rocket open to salvage for scrap metal.

Major Khen Chhun Kour, chief of Kampong Svay district, said that one of the injured, Ly Long, 28, found the rocket in a farm and brought it to his home in Sampov village.

“He took the knife and scratched it,” Chhun Kour said. The manoeuver triggered a blast, which killed 78-year-old Sim Tom and seriously injured five others in the house, including Long. The five were sent to the provincial referral hospital, Chhun Kour said.

At least 49 people have been injured or killed by landmines and unexploded ordnance so far this year, a figure roughly twice as high compared with the same period in 2013.

Fatalities have not been limited to civilians. Two Cambodian deminers working for UK-based organisation HALO Trust died on May 10 when an anti-tank mine went off at their work site in Battambang province. Investigators are determining the cause of the blast.

Rocket-propelled grenades are no rare find; both sides employed them during decades of civil conflict, Heng Ratana, director general of the Cambodian Mine Action Centre, said.

“We cannot identify whether it came from the Khmer Rouge or the royal government’s armed forces, because all sides used this rocket. And it’s normally made in China or Vietnam,” he said, adding that the RPG has been in action “since [the] 1960s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s”.

“We do not have a number right now [for how many remain],” he said. “But it’s commonly found throughout the country.”

Inside the rocket-propelled grenade is copper, and Ratana surmised that the person scratching at it was intent on taking the material to craft a cow bell.

Ratana added that CMAC officials were surprised an older woman was killed, since Cambodians her age would have been well aware of the risks involved.

Through mine education, CMAC also relies on older members of the community to keep the youth aware of risks.

“I think this rocket was discovered by the younger children, the community brought it to their house purposefully for the owner to report to the police and village chief and so on, not to try and open it.”

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JOE FREEMAN

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