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Cambodian Government Says No Individual Blame Over Bridge Crush

  • Robert Carmichael

Cambodian police officers stand guard on a bridge where hundreds of people stampeded during a water festival in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 28 Nov 2010

Cambodian police officers stand guard on a bridge where hundreds of people stampeded during a water festival in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 28 Nov 2010

The Cambodian government says no one was to blame for the crush a week ago that killed 351 people and injured nearly 400 more on a bridge at the end of the annual Water Festival.

Cambodian officials Monday said no individual is to blame for the tragedy, and consequently nobody will be punished.

Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith said the bridge crush was an unexpected accident.

"I think that this is the lack of experience. That's why we have this problem," said Khieu Kanharith. "The recommendation of the investigating committee is to improve human resources, which means maybe we'll try to get cooperation from the other countries to train our staff."

Earlier Monday Prime Minister Hun Sen said the fault was a collective one that the government simply did not foresee.

Mr. Hun Sen said each family of those who died would receive $12,000, a large sum in Cambodia where people typically earn less than $100 a month.

Those injured will also receive a cash payout.

Around 2 million people converged on Phnom Penh for the annual Water Festival, a three-day celebration that sees hundreds of teams of boat racers competing in rowing races down the river in the capital.

The bridge crush took place on the final evening.

The government was criticized for failing to provide enough security at the bridge, which links mainland Phnom Penh with the Diamond Island entertainment center.

The company running Diamond Island blamed the government for a lack of security; the government blamed the company.

Khieu Kanharith says video footage showed people ignoring warnings from security personnel not to cross the bridge.

Investigators say as many as 8,000 may have been jammed on the bridge when the stampede began.

People were able to get on the bridge from both ends, but by the time they reached the middle of they were unable to move forward or backward. As more people streamed on, a crush ensued.

The government says most of the dead suffocated or died from internal bleeding in the panic.

Khieu Kanharith brushed aside criticism by the opposition that the committee was composed of ruling party insiders investigating themselves.

"If they want they can set up a committee to join, to make it - but the problem for us is the effectiveness and the quick finding must be the priority, because it is not only this for Phnom Penh, but also for the future in the provinces and everywhere," said Khieu Kanharith.

The bridge crush was Cambodia's worst loss of life in decades, and the government has promised that it will ensure a safer Water Festival next year.

One improvement the committee recommended was building a second pedestrian bridge adjacent to the first, with each one way only.

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