Four American demining instructors were badly injured at a Kampong Chhnang training site yesterday when a piece of unexploded ordnance (UXO) went off as the group tried to dismantle it to use as a teaching aid.
“They were checking a UXO and trying to... cut it in order to prepare it for teaching the students, when it exploded in the laboratory office.
“Of the four, two were seriously wounded and one very badly wounded,” Cambodian Mine Action Centre director-general Heng Ratana said.
Although Ratana did not have details of the injuries, he said three men had significant damage to their arms and faces.
All four men were rushed to hospitals in Phnom Penh.
Doctors at Calmette Hospital, where two of the men were sent, said that as of press time, one of the victims was being operated on for internal bleeding in his abdomen and an injury to an artery in his leg.
The least-wounded victim suffered lacerations and a broken hand. Doctors were preparing to send him to Bangkok.
Two others were sent to Royal Rattanak Hospital, where they remained as of press time. Ratana said they too would probably be sent to Thai hospitals by today.
The volunteer trainers, who arrived in Cambodia just days earlier, had hosted the month-long course for only a day when the accident occurred, Ratana said.
The men, all highly experienced, had been sent from Okinawa, in Japan, where they were employed as expert deminers.
“We highly appreciate [these men’s] commitment and hard work,” Ratana said, adding that he was unsure whether the training of the 30 deminers enrolled in the program would continue.
After the explosion, all four men were sent to the provincial hospital, from which two had to be helicoptered out, Brigadier General Chuon Choeun, commander of the Kampong Chhnang Provincial Military Police, said.
“Their condition was too serious, and they were immediately sent to Phnom Penh for rescue and treatment,” he said.
Officials declined to provide the names of the four and US Embassy officials remained tight-lipped last night, saying only that an incident had occurred.
“At this time the US Embassy can only confirm that four US personnel were injured today in Kampong Chhnang during a mine clearance training exercise and that the four US personnel were assisting in training for Humanitarian Mine Action Explosives Ordnance Disposal,” spokesman John Simmons wrote in an email.
In spite of significant demining efforts over the past decades, millions of unexploded ordnance remain buried throughout the country and scores of people are injured each year.
While accidents declined slightly last year, dropping from 211 accidents in 2011 to 185 in 2012, deaths have remained steady, with 43 people killed in both years, according to data from the Cambodia Mine Victims Information System.
Ratana noted that the dangers remained no less prevalent for those with landmine knowledge.
“We’ve experienced this incident at other times as well with CMAC staff. We lost three operators in 2011, which was one of the [worst] experiences,” he said. '
'All people try to get away from UXO or landmines, but our teams, every day, seek them out. So even if they’re very experienced, that day may come.”