Ministry Denies Responsibility for Collapsed Dirt Quarry

After a wall of land separating a lake and a dirt quarry in Phnom Penh collapsed on Tuesday night, creating a fierce current that destroyed a fishing boat and left one of its crewmen missing, authorities Thursday refused to say who was overseeing the quarry where the incident occurred.

At about 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday night, water from Kop Srov lake in Prek Pnov district rushed into a dirt excavation site owned by tycoon Nhoek Phorn after a 20-meter-wide wall of dirt separating the two areas buckled.

Khun Pheap, left, looks out over the dirt quarry on Thursday that her husband's fishing boat was sucked into after the wall separating it from Kop Srov lake collapsed on Tuesday night. (Jens Welding Ollgaard/The Cambodia Daily)
Khun Pheap, left, looks out over the dirt quarry on Thursday that her
husband’s fishing boat was sucked into after the wall separating it from Kop Srov lake collapsed on Tuesday night. (Jens Welding Ollgaard/The Cambodia Daily)

Khorn Reth, 27, and Touch Sloek, 33, were fishing on the lake about 40 meters from the dirt quarry when their wooden boat was sucked into the hole and overturned. Mr. Reth clung to a piece of styrofoam and swam to safety once the water settled, but Mr. Sloek disappeared.

Dith Tina, a spokesman and secretary of state at the Ministry of Mines and Energy, said that although his ministry was responsible for overseeing dirt extraction in Phnom Penh, Mr. Phorn’s large dirt quarry did not fall under its purview.

“It doesn’t belong to the ministry. It is not our responsibility,” he said.

Asked who was responsible for oversight of the tycoon’s extraction site, Mr. Tina responded: “You’re a journalist. It’s your job to find that out.”

Military police posted outside the excavation site prevented reporters from entering the premises this week, but officials within the force also distanced their units from the site Thursday.

District military police commander Phuong Sophy confirmed that military police regularly guard the area, but claimed the officers were not from his unit, but rather from a national-level unit nicknamed “long chhin.”

“Our force is not guarding there. They are long chhin under control of the National Military Police,” Mr. Sophy said.

However, National Military Police spokesman Eng Hy said that officers from long chhin—officially known as Mobile Intervention Unit 196—were not protecting the land.

“Long chhin are under the National Military Police, but they do not guard the land there,” he said.

Meanwhile, excavation work continued Thursday on the edge of Kop Srov lake, while police said they had left the task of looking for the body to the community of fishermen who live there.

At least six excavators continued to remove dirt from the edge of the lake in the afternoon as family and neighbors of Mr. Sloek sat on the edge of the quarry—now filled with water—and watched for any sign of him.

Mr. Sloek’s wife, Khun Pheap, said that police were no longer assisting with the search, and that a company representative told her that unless she found her husband’s body she would not receive substantial compensation.

“I have no money, so I have no hope to find the body,” Ms. Pheap said. “If we find the body and they are confident he is dead, then they will pay us.”

Suos Sokha, deputy district police chief, confirmed that police had given up on the search, and said it was unlikely that anyone would recover Mr. Sloek’s body.

“I think his body will not float on the water, because he might be buried under the bottom of the hole,” he said.

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