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Three years on, pain still fresh

Monks pray for the deceased at Diamond Island bridge in Phnom Penh in 2010
Monks pray for the deceased at Diamond Island bridge in Phnom Penh in 2010. Heng Chivoan

Three years on, pain still fresh

For Ung Nget, 29, the closing day of Cambodia’s annual Water Festival yesterday evoked painful memories of a night he was lucky to survive.

In the three years since the Koh Pich bridge stampede killed more than 350 people in the capital, Nget has not been able to shake the images of dead bodies and the cries of the dying that surrounded him.

“When someone mentions the Water Festival, it reminds me of Koh Pich bridge … and the sound of victims screaming for help,” he told the Post yesterday.

Nget, who was crossing the bridge for the first time that night, jumped into the water to free himself from a pile of bodies he feared he would be crushed under.

In doing so, he injured his legs and was taken to hospital. “I don’t want to remember this, but I cannot avoid it. It’s in my mind forever until I die,” he said.

“Until only recently, I was dreaming about it almost every night. I don’t dream about it now, but I can’t forget it.”

Rather than suppress those painful memories, Nget will be one of many survivors who will join the families and friends of those who died for a memorial service at a stupa near where the tragedy occurred this Friday.

Among those attending will be Yang Pit, whose grandson, Chheum Vandy, 23, died in the stampede.

Pit spent the final day of the Water Festival yesterday paying tribute to Vandy with monks and neighbours he had invited to his house in Kampong Speu province’s Kong Pisey district.

“I am marking the third anniversary at home for my grandson today,” he said.

Pit will travel to Phnom Penh to mark the calendar anniversary of the tragedy, which falls this Friday.

“I will go … to the stupa where my grandson’s name is etched,” he said. “We do this every year in order to pray to his spirit. I’ll never forget that event.”

City Hall officials have made a point of inviting those who lost someone in the stampede to the memorial.

“The ceremony will be held by [municipal] governor Pa Socheatvong, who along with city hall officials, nine district officials and all departments will offer food to 108 monks,” a statement from City Hall says.

After an investigation, officials said the stampede was caused by overcrowding, panic and the bridge swaying. Many fainted and eventually suffocated.

Prime Minister Hun Sen said in the aftermath of the stampede that no government officials would be held personally accountable for what had happened, calling the tragedy unexpected and an accident.

That decision came amid widespread accusations of negligence on the part of officials and calls for key individuals to resign.

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