At least 16 people have died in Kampong Cham province’s Oraing Ov district after reportedly drinking rice wine that some officials speculated had been contaminated with pesticides.
Deputy district governor Nuon Song said the deaths of the villagers – who were from three different communes – began on Friday, but that officials first got word of them on Sunday.
“After preliminary analysis from our experts, we suspect that they died because of intoxication,” he said.
“The authorities have worked hard to save their lives.
Seriously intoxicated villagers have been sent to the provincial hospital, while those slightly affected have been gathered at the Preah Theat pagoda for treatment.”
He said while eight villagers died in Preah Theat commune, four died in Ampil Tapoak commune and three died in Mean commune.
He added that at least 12 people – six of them women – died because the wine they drank was laced with an unknown contaminant, while two died from simple overdrinking and two because they were “too old”.
District governor Khhun Tha said health officials in Kampong Thom were “monitoring the mishap”.
“Though we have found that people have died because of contamination in their bodies, we are unsure of the exact cause yet,” he said.
But provincial police chief Nuon Samin said officials suspected the rice wine had been contaminated with pesticides.
“We suspect that the person who bought the wine may have incorrectly poured the wine into a nearby pesticide bottle,” he said. “Consequently, anyone who drinks that wine has died.”
He said some of the wine had been consumed immediately following a Buddhist religious ceremony on Friday, and that villagers had begun collapsing and dying not long after.
Keo Narith, the director of the provincial hospital, said that the death toll had continued to rise rapidly – just seven deaths had been reported as of Sunday – and that he, too, suspected the deaths were caused by pesticides.
“We are investigating the cause of death, but we are unable to identify the exact cause yet,” he said. “It is hard to make a conclusion.”
He added that a total of 77 people had received medical treatment after reportedly drinking the wine.