Two Cambodian Peacekeepers Die of Food Poisoning in Mali

Two Cambodian soldiers on a U.N. peacekeeping mission in the West African nation of Mali died of food poisoning on Tuesday, a senior military official said.

The bodies of Meak Sereivathana, 26, and Ny Nol, 32, who were part of a 309-strong Cambodian contingent in the strife-riddled nation, will be examined by the U.N. in Mali before being returned to Cambodia, said General Sem Sovanny, director-general of the National Center for Peacekeeping Forces.

“Two military personnel died after food poisoning caused them respiratory problems,” Gen. Sovanny said.

“Right now, the U.N. is conducting autopsies on the bodies. I think the corpses will be returned to Cambodia soon,” he said, adding that he was awaiting further details on the deaths.

Cambodia began deploying troops to the troubled Saharan nation in February as part of the U.N. Multinational Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINSUMA). The mission was established in 2013 amid ongoing unrest after an April 2012 secessionist coup by ethnic Tuaregs in the north.

Ten peacekeepers have died during the MINSUMA operation, according to the U.N.’s website, which had yet to add Meak Sereivathana and Ny Nol to that list—or report their deaths—as of last night.

The Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) previously sent more than 1,600 troops to U.N. missions in Chad, Sudan, South Sudan and Lebanon. Gen. Sovanny said Meak Sereivanthana and Ny Nol were the first Cambodian soldiers to die while engaged in U.N. peacekeeping missions.

The U.N. in Phnom Penh declined to comment on the deaths. The U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations, based in New York, did not respond to requests for comment.

The RCAF deployments were sent to Mali to work as engineers in the northern towns of Kidal and Tessalit and to clear unexploded ordnance in the northeastern region of Gao. The pair were engineers, according to Gen. Sovanny.

Mali was plunged into turmoil in January 2012, when members of the nomadic Tuareg ethnicity launched assaults on a number of towns in the country’s north, causing civilians to flee over the border to Mauritania.

In April 2012, the Tuareg rebels seized control of Northern Mali, declared their independence and proclaimed the region an Islamist state to be governed by Shariah law.

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