Officials Suspect Tainted Wine Caused Three Villager Deaths

Officials in Tbong Khmum province suspect that three people who recently died within three days of each other in the same village may have succumbed to poisoning from tainted wine, but are not ruling out chronic illness.

Provincial police chief Mao Pov said Wednesday that the three victims—Chan Sarun, 66; Nuot Pheng, 44; and Sam Vuth, 44—had all bought rice wine from the same shop in Ponhea Krek district’s Ta Am village and died one at a time on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.

“We do not yet know the reason for the deaths, but I have ordered my police to investigate the case,” Mr. Pov said. “I think poison was probably the reason because they died after drinking wine.”

Keo Vannak, director of the provincial health department, said he and some of his staff visited the village and have sent a sample of the suspicious wine to Phnom Penh for testing. But after speaking with other villagers, he said they learned that all three victims were also suffering from long-running illnesses, including liver disease and diabetes.

“We don’t dare to draw any conclusions about what killed them yet. I think it is also possible that they died from their chronic illnesses, because we went to the area to gather information about the dead people and we were told they had been sick for a long time.”

Mr. Vannak said the three deaths had sent the village into a panic and sparked a run on the district hospital, where 24 people checked themselves in on Tuesday out of fear that an unidentified disease might be spreading through their community.

He said some of the patients had high blood-sugar levels or calcium deficiency, but most were simply scared.

“They are not in serious condition and there is no relation to the poison,” said Hang Kosal, the hospital’s deputy director. “They felt ill because they got scared when they saw the three people die one after the other.”

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