An antitank mine killed six men and seriously injured a seventh in Preah Vihear province’s Choam Ksan district on Wednesday as the group was traveling home after a day of rice farming, officials said Thursday.
The men, aged between 20 and 49 years old, were riding on the back of a homemade tractor along a dirt track in Yeang commune at about 7 p.m. when the mine exploded, instantly killing six of them, district governor Sok Hay said.
“Six men were killed and one was seriously injured by the anti-tank mine, which exploded and ripped their bodies into pieces,” Mr. Hay said Thursday.
Deputy district police chief Sai Sim described the grisly scene, saying that the victims’ body parts were flung far from the site of the blast.
“The victims’ families went there to pick up the body parts to cremate them…there was a lot of blood on the land around the blast,” he said.
Last year, 119 people were injured in accidents with unexploded ordnance (UXO) or mines and 43 people were killed. Of those deaths, 23 were due to antitank mines, which are designed to destroy armored vehicles and tanks, according to figures from the Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority (CMAA).
So far this year, 47 people have been injured from mines or UXO and six have been killed, according to figures from CMAA. The antitank mine explosion doubled the number of deaths, bringing the fatalities to 12.
Believing that small but frequently traveled tracks are safe, many rural farmers walk or drive over contaminated land on a regular basis, Heng Ratana, director-general of the Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC), said.
During the wet season, however, when heavy rain and occasional flooding loosens the soil, the pressure of a tractor and its passengers is enough to detonate the antitank mines, which have been underground since the 1980s and 1990s, when the Khmer Rouge was fighting government forces in the area, Mr. Ratana said.
“This area, the small road, it’s about 30 km from the main road, so it was not demined,” he said Thursday, adding that CMAC and other demining NGOS have seen a constant decline in funding because donors now prioritize more recent conflict zones such as Libya and Iraq. The shortfall in funding has also meant that two demining teams of about 100 deminers combined are now clearing Preah Vihear and Kompong Thom provinces, Mr. Ratana said.
“We clear the areas around villages first but there are no resources to clear remote areas and the resources for Preah Vihear are very limited,” he said.
Mr. Ratana said that across the country, an area of 1,900 square km is still contaminated. Since 1992, CMAC has destroyed about 3.5 million mines and UXO spread over 500 square km.