Pursat Demining Death Caused By Use of Incorrect Equipment

A deminer killed in Pursat province late last month was using the “wrong tool” while clearing an area of land in the infamous K-5 minefield when he detonated an anti-personnel landmine, according to a preliminary investigation by HALO Trust, the NGO for which he worked.

Penh Naruth, 36, died at a hospital in Thailand’s Trat province on April 30, a day after detonating a Soviet-made PNM anti-personnel mine on land near the border that was being cleared to make way for houses and farms, said HALO Trust country director Matthew Hovell.

“It was the result of using the wrong tool to excavate a metal signature,” said Mr. Hovell, referring to the alert indicating that metal is buried underground. He said Penh Naruth had been using a hoe but should have been using a more delicate scraper and probe.

While Penh Naruth’s visor and body armor were not pierced in the explosion, the blast propelled the metal head of the hoe against his chest at such velocity that it damaged his lungs upon impact, leading to his death from acute respiratory failure, he said.

While the official report on the incident has not been completed, Mr. Hovell said, likely recommendations would include changes to how staff receive re-training, focusing on strict adherence to the organization’s standard operating procedures [SOP].

“If SOPs were followed, the accident wouldn’t have happened,” he said in an email on Tuesday.

Penh Naruth had worked for HALO Trust since 2001, the last three years as a section commander in charge of nine other deminers. He was part of a team of 50 deminers who had been clearing two minefields totaling about 8 hectares in Veal Veng district’s Thma Da commune since October, Mr. Hovell said.

The K-5 minefield, which stretches along much of Cambodia’s border with Thailand, is considered one of the most heavily mined areas in the world. Constructed by the Vietnamese-backed Cambodian military in the mid-1980s, the chain of trenches and minefields was intended to prevent the infiltration of Khmer Rouge and other armed groups based along the Thai border.

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