Toxic Water or Wine to Blame For Poisonings

Either toxic water or home-brewed alcohol is suspected in the deaths of three soldiers and the poisoning of more than 20 other members of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces who are now receiving medical treatment after falling sick at their base on the Thai border in Oddar Meanchey province, military officials said.

The first death occurred on December 2 and was followed by the deaths of two more soldiers on Thursday and Friday, along with the apparent poisoning of 23 other soldiers, four of whom are in a serious condition, Oddar Meanchey provincial military deputy commander Heng Chamroeun said.

Nine of the almost two dozen soldiers who were placed under medical supervision at Anlong Veng district referral hospital have been moved for treatment at the military hospital in Siem Reap province, Mr. Chamroeun said.

“The deaths were probably caused by a poisonous substance. But we are not sure what the origin is of the poison as our soldiers started falling sick, because they drank water from a stream and white alcohol,” he said.

Mr. Chamroeun said that the alcohol could not be solely to blame for the mass poisoning, as some of those who fell ill had not consumed the beverage. “We immediately ordered all our soldiers to stop using water from the stream since Friday,” Mr. Chamroeun added.

“White alcohol,” or rice wine has often proved to be lethal in Cambodia, with some 50 deaths alone recorded from the home-brew between late 2010 and the end of 2011. The use of methanol, an industrial solvent, in the brewing process is often the reason for its lethality.

The troops who died and fell ill were part of a 217-strong unit based at Chambak Korng stream in Trapaing Prasat district’s O’Svay commune. District governor Van Kosal said he had inspected the soldiers on Saturday and that all were suffering from swollen stomachs and headaches, and some were unconscious.

Ly Vanday, a member of the medical staff at the military hospital in Siem Reap, said that samples of water from the stream, as well as the alcohol, were sent to Phnom Penh for analysis.

“Each patient was poisoned and we are now using medicine to help them survive,” he said.

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