The Ministry of Defense, which organized a fireworks show that turned deadly Wednesday night when an explosion sent shrapnel into a crowd celebrating the 10-year anniversary of King Norodom Sihamoni’s coronation, blamed faulty fireworks for the death of one man and injuries sustained by seven others.
The fireworks were launched from Chroy Changva district, along the bank of the Tonle Sap river opposite the Royal Palace, at about 7:15 p.m. on Wednesday as part of the closing festivities.
Nakry Darou, 23, from Kandal province’s Koh Thom district, died instantly when a piece of shrapnel from a metal launch tube, which blew up when a firework exploded inside, tore open his torso.
Lieutenant General Ith Sarath, director of training at the Ministry of Defense, said his department was responsible for the fireworks show—but not to blame for the accident.
“When we set off the fireworks, they did not shoot into the sky,” Lt. Gen. Sarath said.
“It was not our fault, it was because of the fireworks. It was strange, because when we ignited it, it exploded immediately. Therefore we concluded [the accident] was caused by faulty fireworks,” he said, adding that in the 40 years his department has been in charge of pyrotechnics shows, there had never been an accident.
Lt. Gen. Sarath also blamed the bystanders, whom he said ventured too close to the launch area, which consisted of clusters of 10 metal and PVC tubes from which the explosives were fired.
“Our people had asked [the crowd] to stay 200 meters away, but we could not stop them,” he said. “They wanted to see and know [how the fireworks were launched], especially the young ones.”
Lt. Gen. Sarath said all of the fireworks used in Wednesday night’s show were Chinese made.
Chinese Embassy officials could not be reached.
Brigadier General Kheng Tito, spokesman for the military police, also said that defective fireworks caused the accident.
“It was a technical problem,” Brig. Gen. Tito said. “According to an expert, [the fireworks] blew up the tube, which exploded and sent shrapnel outward.”
Chhin Ketana, secretary-general of the National Committee for organizing National and Inter national Ceremonies, which arranged the rest of Wednesday’s events except the pyrotechnics display, said that the committee had compensated Nakry Darou’s family and that the accident would be investigated by “experts.”
“Experts will conduct an investigation into this,” Mr. Ketana said. “The ministries of defense and interior will also launch an investigation.”
Nakry Darou’s uncle, Phan Ra, confirmed that his family received 6 million riel, or about $1,500, from the organizing committee and another 2 million riel (about $500) from City Hall.
“We are regretful and upset, and we are suffering,” he said.
“The government must take responsibility for the incident that killed him and injured other bystanders.”
Khy Kimsour, a village security guard in Chroy Changva commune who was watching the fireworks show, on Thursday described the events leading up to the tragedy.
Mr. Kimsour said that after a soldier lit the fuse for the fireworks, a tube began rocking back and forth before exploding.
“The boy standing in front of me was hit in the leg [by shrapnel] while another boy standing behind me was hit in his chest,” he said.
Another of the injured bystanders, Chroy Krib, 25, said by telephone on Thursday that a piece of metal from the explosion hit him in the neck, and that he received a number of stitches for the wound.
Mr. Krib also said that he received compensation from the national organizing committee on Thursday.
Mr. Krib said that prior to the blast, he had been standing about 150 meters from the clusters of launch tubes when smoke started pouring out of one of them, causing soldiers nearby to take cover.
“I did not realize that they were trying to hide from the explosion,” Mr. Krib said, adding that after the explosion, “a person had to come and tell me that I had been injured. I did not realize I was injured when it exploded.”