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Sihanoukville rescue operations end, inquiry set to begin

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday visits victims of a building collapse in Sihanoukville city that has killed 28 people. Hun Sen’s facebook page

Sihanoukville rescue operations end, inquiry set to begin

Prime Minister Hun Sen announced an investigation to ascertain if any official bore responsibility for the seven-storey building collapse in Preah Sihanouk province that left 28 people dead as rescue operations came to a close on Tuesday.

The prime minister also called for the creation of a committee to inspect construction projects throughout the coastal province.

Four Chinese nationals have been detained over the tragedy, with the building’s owner charged with involuntary manslaughter and causing bodily harm.

Meanwhile, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has expressed concern over the possible risk to thousands of workers and demanded immediate measures to improve health and safety.

Speaking at a conference at the disaster site on Monday night, Hun Sen said the four-day rescue operation was the first of its kind in Cambodia, and that the tragedy was a lesson the Kingdom would learn from.

The prime minister said that any official responsible for allowing the building to be constructed without permission would be found.

“Such building collapses were only previously heard of in Bangladesh, India, China and other countries, but never in Cambodia."

“We have had to carry out significant search and rescue operations after this incident, and now that they are complete, we are left with clearing up activities."

“But we have not closed the investigation into whether the construction of the building was legally permitted and what framework it fell within. What led this to happen?” Hun Sen asked.

After the disaster, Preah Sihanouk provincial governor Yun Min was granted permission by the prime minister to resign on Monday after acknowledging “shortcomings”.

Min was moved to the Ministry of Interior and replaced by Kampong Cham provincial governor Kouch Chamroeun.

Hun Sen also announced the removal of Nhem Vanda from his position as first vice-president of the National Committee for Disaster Management “for lacking responsibility and telling a lie”.

The Prime Minister said he will not allow any official in the country to lie to him as Vanda did. He firmly condemned Vanda’s conduct, demoting him to government advisor from a senior minister. Hun Sen said if Vanda was not satisfied with that, he would be demoted further.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Hun Sen visits the victims of the Sihanoukville building collapse at a hospital on Monday. HUN SEN’s FACEBOOK PAGE

Hun Sen also announced the decision to create a committee to inspect construction throughout Preah Sihanouk province, of which Chea Sophara, Minister of Land Management and Urban Planning and Construction was chair.

“The committee must employ real technical officials with the ability to assess buildings under construction and stop those that do not have permission. Such an incident must not be allowed to happen again,” the prime minister stressed.

The seven-storey building owned by a Chinese national was reportedly being constructed without permission and collapsed in the early hours of Saturday, with 28 workers killed and 26 injured.

Lim Samean, the director of the Preah Sihanouk Provincial Department of Health, told The Post on Tuesday that of the 28 bodies that were recovered, one was yet to be claimed. Even the injured workers said they did not recognise the body.

Two injured construction workers had left the hospital and were at home while those receiving hospital treatment had improved, including that of a seriously injured worker who was sent to Phnom Penh, she said.

“Most of them suffered head injuries and arm and leg abrasions. One suffered a broken arm,” Samean said.

The families of those killed will receive nearly $80,000, while the last two victims rescued from the rubble will each receive around $30,000. Other victims will each receive about $10,000 in addition to funds from the national budget, Hun Sen announced.

Sok Heng, the investigating judge at the Preah Sihanouk provincial court, issued warrants to detain four Chinese nationals, including a woman, on Monday. They are suspected of being responsible for the collapse.

Chinese building owner Chen Kun, 39, was charged with involuntary manslaughter, causing bodily harm and causing destruction of property under Articles 207, 236 and 414 of the Criminal Code.

Construction contractor Deng Xin Gui, 48; construction worker Gao Yu, 29; and a 43-year-old woman Xie Ya Ping, who oversaw the site, have been charged as accomplices under Article 29.

The ILO issued a statement on Tuesday expressing its concerns over the possible risk to thousands of construction workers.

“Such risks can be quickly prevented. The resolution of this issue demands measures across many sectors."

“These include the review of regulations and their implementation in the construction sector, the introduction of health and safety and construction safety standards, an increase in inspections and ‘zero accidents’ campaigns, as well as the promotion of a safe working culture in this sector,” it said.

A report by the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training in 2018 said that of the 25,206 workers that sustained work-related accidents, around 200 were killed and 2,711 injured.

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