Two children died on Friday afternoon in Kompong Thom province after attempting to open a rocket-propelled grenade they found near their house with an ax, police said on Sunday.
Cousins Chok Nak, 12, and Oy Chhan, 14, had been hunting for small animals in a forest in Stong district’s Popoak commune when they came across the B-40 grenade.
Rather than leaving it alone, they carried the projectile to a field about 1 km from their homes before hitting it with an ax and knife, with the eventual explosion instantly killing them both.
A third boy, Hen Sokchea, 11, who had helped move the grenade, left the scene before the explosion and alerted authorities, said commune police chief Pen Sam Oth.
“After eating lunch, the children saw the rocket while they were trapping animals like wild chickens using bicycle-brake cables, and they helped carry the rocket out of the woods and put it in a field near a small pond,” Mr. Sam Oth said.
The two cousins were sitting side by side as they “hit and chopped at the rocket with an ax and knife,” he said, causing it to explode and inflict severe damage to their legs and faces, killing them instantly.
Anti-tank rocket propelled grenades were used against U.S. and South Vietnamese forces during the Second Indochina War—which spilled over into Cambodia in the early 1970s—with the weapons also forming part of the Khmer Rouge’s arsenal.
According to the government’s Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC), there were 111 casualties from UXO in 2015, including 18 deaths and 23 people requiring limb amputations. One death and three serious injuries were children, according to CMAC director-general Heng Ratana.
While CMAC runs various education initiatives in at-risk communities, Mr. Ratana stressed that it is up to the communities themselves to instruct children not to play with suspicious objects.
“They have to educate the children as to what is safe to touch,” he said.