Tragically, the victims include a seven-month-old baby girl and a four-year-old boy, who had been with their parents picking chillies in the fields.
Sean, who is visiting MAG’s clearance projects in Cambodia with MAG’s Chief Executive Lou McGrath, met victims’ families this morning, and the team of MAG Community Liaison staff who were first on the scene after the blast.
“It was very clear that the whole community have been shattered by this, and when MAG’s teams first arrived they were met with carnage,” said Sean.
“The funeral was very emotional, especially when I met a little boy and his sister whose parents were both killed by the mine. He was really confused. He kept saying he thought they were still out working in the fields,” Sean added.
At about 4.30pm local time yesterday, Tuesday 16 November, 14 people from six families got onto the vehicle – a kind of motorised trailer known as a ‘buffalo machine’ – to return home from harvesting chillies in the fields at Knach Sangke in Battambang.
The recently-built road back to Chang village where they were from had been partially washed away by rains in the wet season, so the driver decided to take another route down a lesser road.
Although the driver knew the area was suspected of being mined he thought it would be safe as they had seen many cattle using the road without any incident.
But at about 5.15pm he drove over a powerful anti-tank mine buried in the ground and the weight of the cart detonated it, killing all his passengers, and seriously injuring himself.
The 13 people killed were the two children, the baby’s mother, seven other women and three men.
The 14th person was the driver, whom many initially believed to have been killed but who actually survived. He has had a leg amputated and is currently in a serious condition in hospital being treated for shrapnel wounds.
“Body parts littered the area and villagers were screaming hysterically and throwing themselves on the ground,” said MAG’s Community Liaison team member Pan Chamroen.
“It was a shocking situation. We gathered the bodies and body parts, but we could only account for 11 people. It took us a while to find the others. It was horrible,” she added.
Sean met Rik Lee, grandmother of two-year-old Kam Ned and his sister, aged six, who lost both their parents in the blast. Through her grief she explained how she will strive to care for them both now, but that it will be a struggle:
“I will take care of them for as long as I am alive but it will be very hard for me to feed two more. Kam doesn’t understand. He thinks his parents are still picking chillies. His sister does know though and she is with neighbours. She is too sad, too unhappy,” Rik Lee said.
Sean also spoke to Mr Chhoeum Mao the chief of Chang village, where the victims all lived.
“I am the leader of this community and I am very, very sad,” he said.
“There’s not a lot more to say other than we need more mine clearance here. This can’t happen again. Please, please help us by clearing the mines,” he added.
The bodies of those killed were ceremonially burned at the funeral this morning, and any remaining bones were then swept up and cooled in coconut milk to ensure that the victim’s spirits could be released, as is local tradition.
“Vicious and indiscriminate weapons”
MAG’s Chief Executive Lou McGrath OBE has spoken of how this devastating incident shows that landmines continue to shatter people’s lives in Cambodia every day.
“This is a truly awful incident and our hearts go out to all the families who have lost loved ones,” he said today.
“Every time I come to Cambodia I am struck by how landmines – vicious and indiscriminate weapons – continue to pose a daily risk of death to people here, despite the hard work of all the clearance agencies in the last two decades.
“Landmines really do hide everywhere in Cambodia. They were planted in huge numbers during more than 30 years of war and even though MAG and our fellow clearance experts strive to clear as much land as possible, and in the most prioritised areas, the sad truth is that sheer numbers of landmines makes it very, very hard to find them all, and in time.
“But this harsh reality will not stop us doing everything we can. MAG’s programme in Cambodia is one of the first we launched back in 1992 and I am determined that we do whatever we can to remove this threat for as many Cambodians as possible, reducing the chance of anything like this happening again.”
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