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Hasty funeral for 20 Cambodian troops killed in explosion

The cause remains still unknown and no official explanation has been offered for bereaved families
Smoke billows from the warehouse following an explosion at an army base in Kampong Speu province on April 27.

Smoke billows from the warehouse following an explosion at an army base in Kampong Speu province on April 27. (Photo: AFP)

Published: April 29, 2024 07:25 AM GMT
Updated: April 29, 2024 09:03 AM GMT

A hasty funeral has already taken place for 20 Cambodian soldiers killed on April 27 afternoon by an explosion that left many others wounded at Military Base 3 in southeast Kampong Speu province, and shattered windows up to a kilometer away.

Prime Minister Hun Manet said in a Facebook post that he was “deeply shocked” after being informed of the blast. But the cause remains unknown and apart from online comments, no official explanation has been offered for bereaved families.

He also said Defense Minister Tea Seiha and Vong Pisen, commander-in-chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, had organized the funerals at the government’s expense and that the families of each soldier killed would receive US$20,000 in compensation.

Mainland Southeast Asia has been hit by an extensive heatwave with temperatures in Cambodia hovering around 40 degrees Celsius, leading to speculation that stored explosives may have become unstable and been inappropriately stored.

One soldier told the pro-government Khmer Times that the detonation happened while a team of soldiers was unloading ammunition from five trucks. It also quoted two senior military sources as saying they had not yet received detailed information.

Another senior official said they were meeting to determine what caused the blast. One said: “We cannot disseminate any information to the public yet as we are still meeting.”

Independent online reports said four buildings were destroyed and military vehicles badly damaged. A social media post by army officer Colonel Youeng Sokhon added that 25 village homes were also damaged.

One witness, Pheng Kimneang, told the independent Kiripost, that a large explosion detonated at 2.30 p.m. and smaller explosions continued until 3.40 p.m., adding that a factory sat nearby and a public school is located about five kilometers from the base.

“The explosion was so big that it shattered the glass of the factory and forced workers to evacuate suddenly. It also had a significant impact on nearby residents,” he was quoted as saying.

“For those living about one kilometer away from the scene, like my house, there might be minor damage, maybe just a shattered window. But for those closer to the explosion site, their homes are severely damaged, with windows shattered and more significant destruction.

“According to my neighbor, the explosion likely occurred because they had recently stored new bombs and possibly didn't handle them correctly, especially given the hot weather, leading to the explosion,” he said.

Family members gathered at the site on April 28 for traditional Buddhist commemorations and photographs showed relatives praying and burning incense amid the badly damaged, burnt-out buildings.

Phnom Penh-based embassies were quick to extend their condolences.

United States Ambassador Patrick Murphy said on April 27: “I extend deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of Royal Cambodian Army soldiers killed and all those affected by today’s tragic explosion in Kampong Speu. Our thoughts and prayers are with you.”

Japanese Ambassador Ueno Atsushi also said he was saddened by the news of the tragic explosion while extending his deepest condolences to the families of the victims, adding he would pray for the souls of the deceased.

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