PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — A anti-tank mine leftover from Cambodia's civil war exploded on Monday killing three members of a local demining team as they carried out their work, their organization announced.
The group Cambodia Self Help Demining said in a Facebook post that the team of experts had been responding to an alert in the northern province of Preah Vihear. The area saw combat between government forces and guerrillas of the communist Khmer Rouge in the 1990s.
Almost three decades of civil war that ended in 1998 left Cambodia littered with land mines and other unexploded ordnance. An estimated 4 million to 6 million uncleared land mines and other pieces of unexploded ordnance remain in the country and continue to kill villagers who come upon them.
“There was an explosion, resulting in the deaths of three team members and the injury to a fourth,” said the Facebook message posted by Bill Morse, the American founder of the Landmine Relief Fund, a U.S. charity that helps support the Cambodian deminers. “An investigation of the incident has begun and is ongoing.”
According to the Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority, there were 64,950 casualties, including 19,806 deaths, caused by land mines and other explosive remnants of war from January 1979 to July 2021. It said the number of casualties per year had fallen from 4,320 in 1996 to 65 in 2020.
Heng Ratana, the chief of the Cambodian Mines Action Center, the government agency that oversees mine clearance, said Monday’s accidental deaths were caused by an anti-tank land mine. He said around 20 minutes before it exploded, another piece of unexploded ordnance killed a villager in the same spot who was clearing ground to plant cassava.
The victims' names were not immediately available.
“These brave men have risked everything for years in the service of their country and humanity,” said Morse, the American supporter of their group. “On Monday they sacrificed their lives to make others safe. We honor their lives, and their sacrifice.”