2 killed during land mine clearance training in Cambodia

SIEM REAP, Cambodia (AP) — A land mine exploded accidently during clearance training at a military base in western Cambodia, killing two people, including an Australian, and injuring three others, police said.

National police said the explosion occurred Thursday in Kampong Speu province when a soldier who was being trained mishandled a decades-old land mine that had been removed from the ground. They said a 45-year-old Australian was killed and another 41-year-old Australian was wounded.

Police said one Cambodian soldier was killed and two others were injured.

Police initially said the Australians were training the soldiers, but the Defense Ministry said that was not the case.

Ministry spokesman General Chhum Socheat said Friday that the Australians went to the military base after being invited by Cambodian soldiers who were their friends. He said the mine exploded after one of the Australians “played with it.”

“We did not invite them to train our soldiers but they just visited their friends. But once they saw the mine, they picked it up and played with it before it exploded,” he said.

Some 60,000 Cambodians have been killed or wounded by mines since they were first deployed in large numbers in 1979, when the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime was ousted from power and began 18 years of guerrilla warfare.

Prime Minister Hun Sen said last year that land mines continue to kill or maim nearly 100 people per year, and the country needs more than $400 million in aid to remove all of them by 2025.

Cambodia has cleared about 1,500 square kilometers (580 square miles) of mines, but nearly 2,000 square kilometers (770 square miles) of land remains littered with the munitions, Hun Sen said.

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