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Kampot Court Orders Reinvestigation in Kep Building Collapse

FILE PHOTO- The rescue team searched among the ruins for signs of life after building collapse in Kep province, Cambodia, January 5, 2020. (Khan Sokummono/VOA Khmer)

The Kampot Provincial Court on Wednesday did not deliver a verdict in the January 2020 Kep building collapse case, instead, ordered a reinvestigation of the incident.

On January 3, 2020, a six-floor building in Kep province collapsed, killing 36 people and injuring 23 others. Most of those who died or were injured were construction workers. The building’s owners, Ek Sarun and Chhiv Sothy, were arrested by the police but later released on bail by the provincial court.

Sok Kin, the president of the Building and Wood Workers Trade Union Federation of Cambodia, said the order for a reinvestigation was only delaying justice for the victims of the building collapse.

“In today's society, if you cannot provide justice to the workers, it means that some employers are still exploiting and abusing workers. This is a bad example for Cambodia,” he said.

He said workers must receive compensation and the accused must be found guilty for their actions under the law.

After the crash, relatives of the victims received $50,000 compensation through donations received from wealthy individuals and senior government officials, with injured workers receiving $10,000 each.

Ky Tech, who heads a volunteer group of lawyers appointed by Prime Minister Hun Sen, said his team did not object to the court decision.

“It's a good move to have a thorough investigation before making a decision. The lawyers have nothing to complain about,” he said on messaging application Telegram.

According to Ky Tech, the Kampot Provincial Court will reassess testimony from seven witnesses, experts, and will conduct another hearing.

Mann Boreth, a spokesperson for the Kampot Provincial Court, could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

Technical officials from the Ministry of Land Management have previously determined that the collapse was triggered by the “poor condition of concrete pillars," which were not in compliance with safety codes.

Ting Chhay, the brother-in-law of a 15-year-old teenager, Neang Mai, who died in the collapse, said he had little knowledge of the court proceedings and did not have any demands after receiving the out-of-court compensation. “It’s fine; it’s enough,” he said.

Relatives of some of the victims have told VOA Khmer previously that they were unaware of the court proceedings and that they were facing financial difficulties.

Construction worker advocate Sok Kin said the number of projects that had commenced construction before getting the requisite approvals had dropped since the building collapse.

"I think the authorities or the government took action against any company that started construction illegally. The authorities are checking to see if there is legal permission, if not construction activities are being suspended,” he said.