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
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
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
"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
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.
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
Despite the fact that CMAC director Ieng Mouly is also
Information Minister, the centre has made no public announcement of the death or
"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.
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.
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