Cambodia sacks minister over building collapse as toll rises to 28

green and white leafed plantsPHNOM PENH: Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen sacked a top disaster management official on Monday (Jun 24), saying he had failed to take responsibility for a Chinese-owned building under construction that collapsed on the weekend killing at least 28 people.

About 24 people were injured and many were feared still entombed in a mountain of twisted steel and rubble after the building came down early on Saturday in the coastal town of Sihanoukville.



Two men were pulled alive from the rubble on Monday, more than two days after the accident.

Investigators are trying to determine what caused the seven-storey steel and concrete structure to crumple without warning before dawn, trapping construction workers who were sleeping on the site.

Prime Minister Hun Sen fired Nhim Vanda, deputy director of the National Committee on Disaster Management, because of a “lack of responsibility, and for lying” over the disaster, Hun Sen said on his Facebook page.

He did not elaborate, and Nhim Vanda was not available for comment.



Grim processions of stretchers carrying bodies have punctuated the two days since, as workers claw back the twisted metal and concrete debris.


A grim-faced Hun Sen visited the scene of the collapse in Sihanoukville before daybreak on Monday.

He ordered inspections of all building sites in the town, where condos and hotels are springing up to cash in on the surge in Chinese visitors to its dozens of casinos.

In a rare move, Yun Min, the governor of Preah Sihanouk province, submitted his resignation and it was accepted, Hun Sen said.

“I apologise for the loss and tolerance, to all citizens, civil servants, armed forces of all kinds, in Preah Sihanouk province, for my shortcomings,” Yun Min said in a Facebook post.

High-level resignations over wrongdoing are rare in Cambodia.

Three Chinese nationals and a Cambodian landowner have been held for questioning over the building collapse.

Residents near the disaster scene said they had long feared tragedy was imminent.

“These buildings are coming up in just a year,” said Sock Dara, 45.

“We have been concerned for a long time about the quality of these Chinese buildings.”

An AFP reporter saw a partially buried body, covered by a mosquito net, as the debris was cleared by hand, pneumatic drills and diggers.

“We don’t expect any more survivors,” a soldier who has manned the scene throughout told AFP, requesting anonymity.


Distraught relatives at a local hospital said around a dozen people were believed to still be entombed in the concertinaed floors of the building.

“I lost my husband and my nephew,” said Khim Pov, 47, crying and hugging her daughter as her son – who was able to crawl from the debris – received treatment.

“I don’t have any hope my husband has survived. The bodies being pulled out have been flattened,” she told AFP.

The once-quiet fishing village of Sihanoukville has seen a remarkable Chinese construction boom driven by the need for rooms for tourists flocking from the mainland to its dozens of casinos.

The Chinese embassy in Cambodia, a strategically important ally to Beijing with ports and borders to other Mekong countries, expressed their condolences and backed a “thorough investigation” of the role of the three Chinese nationals and the cause of the accident.

There are an estimated 200,000 construction workers in Cambodia, most unskilled, reliant on day wages and not protected by union rules, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO).

There are also thousands of Chinese workers employed on Beijing-funded projects, fuelling tension with local labourers who envy their better pay and conditions.

Beijing is pouring investment into Cambodia as part of its behemoth Belt and Road initiative, a sweeping trillion-dollar infrastructure programme across Asia, Africa and Europe.

Around US$1 billion was invested in the Preah Sihanouk province between 2016 and 2018 alone, and there are around 50 Chinese-owned casinos and dozens of hotel complexes under construction in Sihanoukville.

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