The Ratanakkiri Provincial Administration has dismissed an ambulance driver from the provincial referral hospital for dropping off a woman’s corpse halfway instead of delivering it to her family.

Deputy provincial governor Nhem Sam Oeun said an investigation determined that it was solely the driver’s fault and not the hospital’s.

Sam Oeun said the driver was a contract employee and a review of his performance indicated that he had performed his work poorly and had drawn complaints from many patients prior to this incident.

“We have decided to fire him,” he said.

Provincial health department director Ung Ratana declined to comment, referring reporters to an official press statement.

“[The decision] does not rest with me,” he said.

According to the provincial health department’s March 17 press release, the hospital dispatched an ambulance driven by Un Bunleng to transport the body of a 31-year-old woman named Kim Mak to her home in Phak Nam village of Veun Sai district’s Koh Peak commune.

When the ambulance reached the O’roling bridge near Khuon village, Bunleng dropped the woman’s body off and informed her family about it. The corpse was then retrieved and transported by motorbike to her home.

“This was all caused by one individual. The driver did not follow the instructions he was given. The provincial health department deeply regrets that this has happened and we offer our sincere apologies to the woman’s family,” said the press statement.

Mong Vichet, acting executive director of the NGO Highlanders Association, deplored the incident, saying the dead had a right to be treated with dignity.

He noted however that the incident may have been due to a cultural misunderstanding related to indigenous people’s traditions regarding the handling of corpses.

“I think maybe the driver misunderstood our tradition restricting corpses from village areas, so he dropped the body off halfway.

“There is a tradition that corpses are not allowed in the villages, but they do not punish the family of the deceased person over it. But he may have thought he was acting according to our traditions as indigenous people,” he explained.