Four American demining specialists who were taking part in a training session at the Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC) in Kompong Chhnang province were injured Tuesday, two of them seriously, after an unexploded ordnance (UXO) accidentally exploded inside one of the center’s rooms.
The victims, whose names and ages have not yet been made public, were working for the U.S. military and arrived in Cambodia last week to take part in training exercises with Cambodian personnel at CMAC.
“There were four injured, and two seriously,” said CMAC Director-General Heng Ratana. “Based on the preliminary reports, their arms and their bodies were hurt in the explosion,” he added.
“They were there to provide training and technical support to CMAC in dealing with UXOs.”
While unsure of the exact details, Mr. Ratana said that the explosion may have been caused by machine gun ammunition.
“We cannot yet conclude as we are still carrying out our investigation with authorities and other witnesses.”
Chuon Choeun, military police commander in Kompong Chhnang, said that the explosion occurred inside a room at the training center at about 1:30 p.m., while the victims were examining UXOs.
“They are trainers helping at CMAC, but they did something wrong, or made it drop,” said Mr. Choeun.
Minh Sovat, CMAC chief in Kompong Chhnang, said that he could not comment on the particulars of the case as investigations were still ongoing, but did confirm that a single UXO explosion had caused the injuries.
Officials from the U.S. Embassy did not respond to requests for comment.
Soon after the explosion, all four injured Americans were airlifted by helicopter to Phnom Penh’s SOS International Medical Clinic and were later transferred to Calmette Hospital.
One victim appeared in critical condition as he was wheeled on a gurney into the emergency room at about 6 p.m. last night. Both arms, as well as his head, were dressed in bloodied bandages.
A doctor from SOS International, who declined to give his name, confirmed that he was treating two of the injured Americans alongside doctors from Calmette Hospital. He said he was awaiting further information before any decision could be made about whether the victims would need to be evacuated for further medical treatment.
“I cannot comment on their condition as we are still waiting on more details. If needed, we will evacuate them, but no decision has been made yet,” he said.
Cambodia is one of the most heavily mined countries in the world, a legacy of years of conflict, with CMAC estimating there may still be 4 to 6 million mines and UXOs left in the country.
Cambodia’s progress in ridding the country of the deadly munitions has been lauded however, and Cambodia’s highly trained deminers regularly take part in U.N. peacekeeping missions abroad in countries such as Lebanon, Syria and South Sudan.
(Additional reporting by Neou Vannarin)