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Disaster Demands Response Evaluation: Rights Advocate

Hundred of shoes from victims left scattered on Diamond Bridge, in what Cambodian Prime Minister calls the country's "worst tragedy" since the Khmer Rouge period.

A leading rights activist says last week's deadly bridge stampede and the authorities' response to it reflect a poor safety and security system that needs addressed for large events.

In order to avoid a future disaster, Cambodia must now focus on safety measures, including building structures, training of security teams and safety exits, said Thun Saray, president of the rights group Adhoc, as a guest on “Hello VOA.”

The Diamond Bridge stampede left 351 dead and 395 injured at last count, one of the worst disasters in decades, and authorities, including Prime Minister Hun Sen, have said no one will be held directly accountable.

A government investigating committee said the stampede was caused when thousands of people panicked on a swaying suspension bridge, leaving victims trampled and asphyxiated.

“We don't want to say who is right or wrong,” Thun Saray said. “But this is an experience for which we have to examine our preparedness so as not to have such an event in the future.”

Callers to Monday's program demanded to see more responsibility for the fatal disaster.

“As a Cambodian, I want to make sure that the lives of my countrymen lost in the incident do not go in vain,” said caller Sok Pheary, from Phnom Penh. “I just want to ask you [authorities] whether you're at peace when this happens within your area of responsibility and your carelessness.”

Thun Saray said Cambodia was not ready to push officials to resign over the incident.

“Our country does not have a culture of accountability as in civilized countries,” he said.