A 12-year-old boy was killed and two other children and their adult neighbor were seriously injured when an old artillery shell exploded on Saturday evening in a remote area of Preah Vihear province, a local military police official said Sunday.
The explosion occurred after Soeun Chin, a 28-year-old soldier, found the DK-75 shell while gathering firewood in the forest with the three children and decided to put it in his cart and take it home, according to Chhour Bunsong, the military police commander for Choam Ksan district in Preah Vihear.
“When they arrived home, one of the three children and [Soeun Chin] dropped it and it exploded, injuring them all and killing one boy,” Mr. Bunsong said.
He identified the dead boy as Choeum Choeut, 12. The boy’s sister, Choeum Sovath, 10, was also injured in the explosion, while another boy, Heang Sothearith, 13, was in critical condition.
Mr. Chin and the girl are being treated at the Preah Vihear provincial referral hospital, while Sothearith is being treated for serious facial injuries at Kantha Bopha Children’s Hospital in Siem Reap City, according to Choam Ksan district governor Chea Kimseng.
The three children were neighbors of Mr. Chin in Robonh village in Choam Ksan’s Morakot commune and had gone together to collect firewood, Mr. Kimseng said, explaining that the village was located in an area with a great deal of unexploded ordnance (UXO) left over from the civil war between the government and the Khmer Rouge in the 1980s.
“Robonh village and other villages nearby are located in a [former] Khmer Rouge stronghold where there were hot battlefields, so there are many UXO still live in the forest,” he said, adding that the area where Mr. Chin picked up the artillery shell was heavily forested and had not been demined at all.
Heng Ratana, director of the Cambodia Mine Action Center (CMAC), said CMAC had not conducted demining operations in the forests surrounding Robonh because the area was mostly populated by soldiers and their families.
He added that unexploded DK-75 shells, which were manufactured in both the former Soviet Union and China, are particularly dangerous because their fuses are covered with plastic rather than metal, meaning that they will not rust away and can remain live for years.
“We are very sorry when children die,” he added. “But in this case, a soldier was with them. I recommend that the soldier receive training. He needs to know the characteristics of munitions.”
According to Mr. Bunsong, the military police commander, Mr. Chin had only recently arrived in Preah Vihear and did not understand the dangers of unexploded ordnance.
“Some soldiers are new to the area and do not know if UXO are live or not,” he said.
Tith Nay, the grandmother of Sothearith, said her grandson was an orphan who lived with her and her husband in Robonh village.
“My grandson got injured on his right eyebrow, his nose and the right side of his chest, which has some shrapnel inside,” she said. “The doctor at Kantha Bopha gave him an intravenous injection.”
She said she was unsure of the boy’s prognosis, but that he was unable to keep food down.
Although the number of accidents and casualties caused by landmines and other UXO in Cambodia has steadily declined over the past two decades, both figures rose by nearly 40 percent last year, according to a report from the government’s Cambodian Mine Action Authority.
Officials attributed the increase to the more widespread use of heavy farm machinery.