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Building owners charged over deadly collapse in Kep province

Ben Sokhean / Khmer Times Share:
Joint forces look for survivors beneath rubble. KT/Chor Sokunthea

Kampot Provincial Court yesterday charged the owners of an under-construction building which collapsed in Kep province on Friday, killing 36 people, including children, and injuring 23 others.

Kampot court spokesman Mann Boret yesterday said Ak Sarun, and his wife, Chhiv Sothy were charged but allowed to go home after being placed under court supervision. He said he did not know what they were charged with.

“I don’t know why the judge decided not to put them in pretrial detention and I will find it out tomorrow,” he said.

However, a police officer who declined to be named said they were charged with manslaughter.

After the collapse, National Police Chief General Neth Savoeun ordered the authorities to search for those linked to the construction project, including the building owners, contractors and workers to identify those responsible for the incident.

Police said Sarun and Sothy live in Preah Sihanouk province.

Brigadier General Ben Dara, chief of the provincial police, said the duo was arrested on Saturday following an order from Gen Savoeun and they were sent to Kep city.

The duo was detained at the provincial police station on Saturday and Sunday before being sent to Kampot provincial court for questioning yesterday because Kep province does not have a court.

A construction supervisor was also reportedly detained for questioning over the collapse.

According to the law, manslaughter is defined as an act causing the death of another person through negligence, recklessness or carelessness,

The charges carry a jail term of between one and three years and fine up to about $1,500.

Colonel Pong Sokheng, deputy chief of provincial police in charge of the case, yesterday confirmed that Sarun and Sothy were briefly questioned by a prosecutor.

“We sent them to Kampot provincial court today, where they were questioned by deputy prosecutor Muth Dara,” he said, noting that the duo was accused by police of being responsible for the collapse.

Mr Dara could not be reached for comment yesterday.

A construction worker in hospital tells his story about the collapse. KT/Chor Sokunthea

Col Sokheng noted that a contractor said to be responsible, and his children also died in the collapse.

He said that a construction supervisor who was detained on Saturday was allowed to return home after police questioning.

“The contractor who was responsible for the construction also died during the building collapse and the supervisor that we questioned was released because we found that he was just a foreman and was not responsible for the building project,” Col Sokheng noted.

During a press conference on Sunday to end a three-day search and rescue efforts at the site of the collapse, Prime Minister Hun Sen said the hotel owners must be arrested over the incident and be responsible for paying compensation to injured victims and families of the deceased.

“This is the mistake of the contractor,” he said. “The proceeding is based on the court and [the couple] must be responsible in compensating the victims.”

Mr Hun Sen noted that the materials used to support each concrete floor were removed just less than 10 days of being filled with concrete, rather than 28 days as per standard practice.

He also refused to remove Kep provincial governor Ken Sitha from his position over the collapse despite some critics, politicians and government officials urging him to sack Mr Sitha.

Mr Sitha yesterday said joint forces cooperated well to rescue the victims. He added that as of yesterday, most of the victims had recovered from their injuries and returned home.

A construction worker comforts his loved one in hospital. KT/Chor Sokunthea

Chiv Dina, a doctor at Kep provincial referral hospital, yesterday confirmed that 19 of the 23 victims were treated at his hospital since Friday.

He said two victims who were seriously hurt were sent to the Kampot provincial referral hospital and two others were sent to a hospital in Phnom Penh.

Dr Dina noted that as of yesterday evening only three victims remained at his hospital.

“Most of the victims returned home today after getting better,” he said. “All 36 bodies have also been handed over to their families since Sunday night for funerals.”

Bal Pheap, 40, a survivor who lost four of seven family members during the collapse, said he and his wife Chorn Phally, 36 were released from Kep provincial referral hospital yesterday.

“We felt better today and the doctors allowed us to return home this morning,” he noted. “However, my wife, who has a broken leg, will continue to receive treatment at a state hospital in Banteay Meanchey province where we live,” he said.

Mr Pheap said his family was still busy with the funeral arrangement and have not decided yet about compensation from the building owners.

Dem Yun, 34, another survivor, yesterday said he has received about $20,000 from the government and also some other funds from individual donors.

“When I was stuck inside the rubble, I felt helpless because I had no food and water,”  he said. “Now, I feel like I have been reborn,” he said.

Mr Yun expressed his gratitude to Mr Hun Sen and other donors who came to visit him at the hospital and provided support to his family.

Mr Hun Sen on Sunday also announced that the families of those who died in the collapse would get $50,000 raised by the government and donors.

He noted that those who survived would get $10,000 each while seven victims who were trapped under the rubble for several hours would receive $20,000 each.

As of yesterday afternoon, the government has received $2,210,800, according to a donor list released yesterday.

King Norodom Sihamoni and Queen Mother Norodom Monineath Sihanouk donated $20,000 to the victims.

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