Speaking in the cabinet meeting on Friday, May 25, Prime Minister Hun Sen admonished ministers for accusing each other of being responsible for the toxic water that has caused illness and death among villagers in Kratie and Mondukiri provinces. He said that this is his last warning, and if the ministers do not act responsibly he will dismiss them.
The targets of his ultimatum were Minister of Industry and Handicrafts Cham Prasidh, and Minister of Mines and Energy Suy Sem.
Approximately 300 Chetr Borei (Kratie) district villagers fell ill earlier this month and 13 died. Most get their drinking water from the Prek Ter stream. About 80 Mondolkiri villagers were hospitalised. They too drink water from a stream.
Villagers suspected cyanide run-off from gold mines in Kratie and Mondolkiri as the source.
This was confirmed by Minister Cham Prasidh but denied by Minister Suy Sem, which led Hun Sen to distrust their reports. He will accept only results from the Health Ministry.
And as to reporting to the media, he said: “Why did they [Mr Sem and Mr Suy] publicly comment on this or that issue, causing strife between ministers, while the head of the government knew about it.” They reported to the media before informing him, and the premier finds such behaviour causes him unwarranted headaches.
“… I will not give up on this issue, so I might decide to fire ministers,” he said, because of the gravity of the issue in respect to the affected villagers and the nation as a whole.
The ministers Sem (Mines), Prasidh (Industry), and Mam Bun Heng (Health) issued joint stating the cause of the poisonings was drinking methanol-laced rice wine and drinking contaminated with herbicides and pesticides. The three ministries will work together to prevent this issue happen in the future.