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Preah Sihanouk provincial governor resigns over failings in deadly tragedy

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One of two survivors found alive on Monday in the rubble of a collapsed building in Sihanoukville is placed in an ambulance. SUN RETHY KUN/AFP

Preah Sihanouk provincial governor resigns over failings in deadly tragedy

Preah Sihanouk provincial governor Yun Min was granted permission to resign from his post on Monday afternoon by Prime Minister Hun Sen in the wake of the deadly building collapse in Sihanoukville that has claimed 28 lives so far.

The prime minister, who travelled to the scene of the accident, wrote on his official Facebook page on Monday that he had “agreed” to allow Min to step down, adding that he was in discussions with Minister of Interior Sar Kheng to bring in “Kuoch Chamroeun from Kampong Cham [province]” to replace him.

Min will continue to spearhead the search and rescue operation until it is finished and new governor Chamroeun takes office, the prime minister said.

The collapse occurred in the early hours of Saturday morning, with at least 26 construction workers also sustaining injuries in the disaster.

In a message announcing his resignation on his official Facebook page, Min also offered his condolences to the victims’ families and asked for “forgiveness” from the prime minister for his failings in preventing the disaster from occurring.

“Prime Minister Hun Sen has agreed [to my resignation]. I apologised to the prime minister, Minister of Interior Sar Kheng and Bun Rany [Hun Sen’s wife] for failing to fulfil my duties."

“I would like to apologise and seek forgiveness from citizens, civil servants and the armed forces in Preah Sihanouk province for my shortcomings, even though I tried my best,” he wrote.

Hun Sen on Monday also announced the removal of Nhim Vanda from his position as first vice-president of the National Committee for Disaster Management, after he allegedly lied regarding the nature of the accident.

“I would like to confirm that today I decided to remove Nhim Vanda as senior minister and first vice-president of the National Committee for Disaster Management for lacking responsibility and telling a lie,” Hun Sen said.

Immediately after Vanda’s removal, King Norodom Sihamoni issued two separate royal decrees.

The first officially ended Vanda’s tenure as first vice-president of the National Committee for Disaster Management, while the second appointed him to a new position as adviser to the government with a rank equivalent to a senior minister. His former position was given to senior minister Kun Kim.

Vanda could not be reached for comment on the matter on Monday.

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Rescue workers recover the body of a victim from the debris of a building after it collapsed in Sihanoukville, Preah Sihanouk province. FRESH NEWS

As of Monday evening, the death toll in the disaster had risen to 28, with a further 26 injured. Two men were pulled alive from the rubble on Monday and were in “serious condition”, with another four corpses found.

Those who escaped the building claimed there were still many people buried – among them Chinese nationals – on the first and second floors.

The seven-storey Chinese-owned building was 80 per cent complete when it collapsed in the early hours of Saturday morning with construction workers staying inside.

Tum Khorn, 44, a victim who managed to escape the rubble with a badly injured heel, told The Post on Monday that at the time of the collapse, he was sleeping on the fourth floor with five other workers.

He said he had been working until 1am and woke seconds before the building’s collapse.

“I did not know what it was; it just suddenly collapsed. A minute after I woke up it was suddenly dark and I could not see anything. But there was a hole through a window that did not have glass yet, so I crawled through and found myself on the rubble. I shouted to other people to come and help me find the others,” Khorn said.

Khorn, who was only scheduled to work on the building for three days, said generally there were more than 100 workers at the site – Chinese nationals and Cambodians. But at the time of the accident, there were only some 50 to 60 in the building, estimating that on each floor there were between 10 and 15 people.

He also said that he had noticed unusual building practices going on at the site before the accident.

“Most people sleeping were Cambodian, but there were a few Chinese nationals also sleeping in the building. The Chinese nationals were on the ground floor because they rested in the elevator box. I heard that they phoned each other immediately after the incident."

“The construction did not seem standardised. I used to work in different sites and those buildings were different from this building. At this building, they took steel and connected it with bolts and put bricks in the middle."

“It was very strange. They were doing [the construction work] from the top to the bottom, and another difference was that they did not make a concrete column [to support the structure]. They used only steel, and I do not know where they got the steel from,” Khorn said.

The authorities had previously told local media that the building in question was owned by Chinese national Chen Kun, and was being illegally constructed on a 583sqm plot. Despite efforts to halt the building’s construction, authorities reportedly failed twice to get Chen to cooperate.

They have received severe criticism from civil society groups, citizens and officials for their failings in preventing the accident.

Consequently, on Sunday the government created a 15-member committee to inspect technical standards, safety and quality at construction sites in the province.

Lao Tip Seiha, the secretary of state at the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, and chair of the newly formed committee, declined to comment on the matter.

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