20 Soldiers Dead in Mysterious Cambodian Army Base Munitions Explosion – Cause Still Unknown

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Security was tight around a military base in southwestern Cambodia on Sunday, a day after a massive explosion killed 20 soldiers, wounded others, and damaged nearby houses. Authorities guarded the site in Kompong Speu province, keeping media at bay as they investigated the blast’s cause.

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Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Manet expressed his shock on Facebook, saying he was “deeply shocked” by the explosion in Chbar Mon district. The cause of the blast was not immediately clear, but it resulted in significant damage.

Villagers living nearby described the aftermath. Chim Sothea, a local resident, told The Associated Press on Sunday that he trembled when he heard the explosion. “I was fixing my house with some construction workers when there was a loud explosion,” he said. “My house shook, and tiles on my roof broke, falling down but luckily not inside the house.”

Images from the scene showed extensive damage to several buildings on the base, including one with its roof blown off, and soldiers receiving medical treatment in a hospital. Other photos depicted nearby houses with holes in their roofs from flying debris.

Col. Youeng Sokhon, an army officer at the site, said in a report to army chief Gen. Mao Sophan that four buildings—three used for storage and one for work—were destroyed, along with several military vehicles. In addition, 25 civilian homes were damaged. Photographs from the base showed the damaged structures in a large field, with no civilian buildings immediately nearby.

Another local resident, who asked to be named only as Sophal, described how he ran back to his house to seek shelter with his family after hearing the blast. “The military immediately closed the road to the base, and villagers panicked, seeking safety,” he said. He added that the closure and panic prompted him to move his family to his parents’ house, farther from the base. When he returned to his own house hours later, he found it intact, but other villagers’ homes had suffered broken windows, doors, and roofs.

Cambodia, like much of the region, has been enduring a prolonged heat wave, with temperatures reaching 39 degrees Celsius (102 degrees Fahrenheit) on Saturday. High temperatures can degrade explosives’ stability over time, potentially causing a single explosion to trigger a chain reaction.

Kiripost, an online English-language news service, reported that the major explosion occurred at around 2:30 p.m., followed by smaller blasts for about an hour.

Past incidents suggest that poorly stored or mishandled munitions pose significant risks. A 2014 report by Small Arms Survey warned that “a single unplanned explosion at a munitions site can claim dozens of lives, injure hundreds, and displace thousands.” It noted that from 2013 to 2019, there were over 500 incidents of unplanned explosions at munitions sites globally.

Hun Manet expressed his condolences to the families of the soldiers who died and promised that the government would cover funeral costs and provide compensation to the victims’ families. As a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the former army commander, his election as prime minister last year followed the 38-year rule of his father, Hun Sen.

U.S. Ambassador W. Patrick Murphy also extended his condolences, posting on the social platform X to express sympathy for the families affected by the explosion.

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