Two Vintners Arrested After 10 Dead in Another Wine Poisoning

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Authorities inspect a rice-wine workshop in Kampong Chhnang province on November 29, 2020. (Kampong Chhnang provincial police)
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At least 10 people have died and more than 30 were hospitalized after drinking tainted rice wine at a Kampot province funeral, leading to the arrest of two winemakers, authorities said.

The incident follows more than 10 deaths in Kandal province earlier this month in a similar wine-poisoning case, sparking a call for strict penalties against manufacturers who lace wine with methanol.

Seng Sokun, Kampot’s Kampong Trach district police chief, said on Tuesday that two people were arrested and waiting to be sent to court.

“The expert officials in cooperation with the province have brought them to the [provincial police headquarters] and are waiting for the result from the ministry. If the result is related to their production, they can be punished,” he said.

Dozens of people were rushed to the district hospital on Saturday as they drank wine together at a villager’s funeral in Russei Srok Khang Koeut commune, Sokun said.

More than 30 were hospitalized, though their health had since improved, he added.

Kampot provincial health department director Nhea Bunthan said that as of Tuesday, 10 people had died.

A Health Ministry statement from Tuesday said some wine samples taken from the funeral had up to 11.9 percent methanol. Six of 11 samples had more than 0.2 percent, it said.

Yun Phally, an official at human rights group Adhoc in Kampot, called for more inspections of rice-wine manufacturers, and strict legal action against producers and traders selling dangerous wine.

“The government should take measures to prevent the import of [substances] that could harm people’s health,” Phally said. “Secondly, there must be a check on those who produce and properly register [them]. If it is found that the producer … affected the health of the people, causing death, they have to be punished.”

In the previous Kandal province incident, 20 of 28 samples had 0.5 percent methanol, above the safe limit of 0.1 percent, the Health Ministry said. The poisoning case, in Lvea Em district, caused at least 11 deaths.

Rice-wine poisonings have been recurring in the country, including a case in Kampong Chhnang province in November that left 12 dead. In September, more than three months after another case in Banteay Meanchey, authorities said culprits had “completely escaped,” and deflected responsibility.

(Translated and edited from the original article on VOD Khmer)

Correction: This article previously misstated the organization Yun Phally works for.

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