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Adulterated Wine Suspected in Deaths of Cambodian Villagers

FILE PHOTO - A Cambodian customer waits for a glass of the popular local rice wine at a Phnom Penh street stall. (REUTERS)

Eight villagers in Cambodia have died after drinking homemade rice wine that probably was adulterated, officials said Tuesday.

The victims had been drinking at the funeral of one of their neighbors on May 10, said Kouy Bunthouen, health department chief of Kandal province near Phnom Penh.

He said the authorities have collected blood samples from the dead as well as the remaining rice wine for laboratory testing, and although they are still awaiting the results, they presume the wine contained methanol. The villagers did not die from COVID-19, he said.

Dangerous cheap alcoholic drinks are a perennial problem in Cambodia’s poor rural areas, and several accidental poisonings are reported each year.

Rice wine is typically made in small batches in homes in the countryside and is popular at events such as weddings, funerals and village festivals. Alcohol is sometimes added to boost the drink’s potency, but if it is not distilled properly it can contain methanol, which can cause blindness or death.

A police officer in Sarika Keo commune, where the deaths occurred, said the victims became sick and died starting on the day of the funeral through last Sunday. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release information to the media.