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More Cambodians Die from Tainted Rice Wine Despite Crackdown

Rice wine on display in Damnak Ampil village in Pursat province, Cambodia, 2019. (Sun Narin/VOA Khmer)

Twelve more people have died in Cambodia from drinking cheap adulterated rice wine, a perennial problem especially in rural areas, officials said.

The Health Ministry said the victims died in two additional deadly incidents after a drinking session at a May 10 funeral in Kandal province took the lives of 12 other people.

A court in Kandal has charged 13 people — two producers and 11 vendors — in connection with that incident. They are accused of violating a law against misleading representation leading to death or disability, which is punishable by two to five years' imprisonment.

Two people in a nearby village who had not attended the funeral died from drinking tainted wine this past Sunday and 10 others died in a village in the southern province of Kampot, the ministry said in a statement Tuesday. Fifty-six others were sickened but are recovering.

After tests from Kampot showed the deaths were caused by toxic wine, officials went to the affected village and barred further production and consumption of the product.

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 toxic levels of methanol, which can cause blindness or death.

The ministry says that samples of the tainted wine contained excessive methanol.

Tests showed that the victims did not have COVID-19, which has surged recently in Cambodia, it said.

It advised local officials to monitor production of rice wine to make sure it is made safely without the addition of methanol.