Six people have died in a village in Kratie province over the past two weeks after drinking rice wine that local authorities suspect was contaminated with a toxic substance, officials said Monday.
The first death came on November 14, when Or Ren, 52, passed away at his home in Prek Prasap district’s Tamao commune after drinking locally made rice wine. Five more people died between then and November 22, including the wife of one distiller.
Commune councilor Eng Chamnat said the victims described symptoms including headaches, vomiting and a sensation of suffocation the day after drinking the suspect home brew.
“Before they died, the victims were all in good health,” he said. “We deduce that they died because of the wine, but we are not sure, because nothing happened when they drank the wine before.”
Chheng Hong, director of the Kratie referral hospital, said a group of officials from the provincial health department visited his facility last week to test the rice wine.
“However, we cannot answer any questions because the results of their tests have not yet been released,” he added.
Deputy provincial police chief Um Phy said he had ordered all rice wine distillers and vendors in the area to temporarily close their businesses after suspicions about the alcohol were raised on November 16, two days after the first victim died.
“We do not know if anyone purposely poisoned the wine with pesticides, but we will arrest them and close their shops if the results for poison are positive,” he said.
Mr. Phy added that villagers had also been warned not to accept any more rice wine until the health officials completed their assessment.
The consumption of poisoned rice wine is not uncommon in Cambodia, where many families make and sell their own batches.
In 2011, at least nine people died and dozens more fell ill in a remote village in Pursat province after drinking what turned out to be water mixed with pure methanol, a deadly poison commonly used as an industrial solvent.