The death toll rose to 21 on Sunday from the collapse of an under-construction building in the Cambodian coastal town of Sihanoukville, officials said, as rescue workers scoured the rubble of the Chinese-owned project for survivors among the estimated 25 people missing.
Spokesman Kheang Phearum of Preah Sihanouk province told RFA’s Khmer Service that about 1,000 rescuers were picking through piles of bricks and debris of the seven-storey building, which held an estimated 70 people when it collapsed early Saturday. Many were sleeping construction workers.
"We are not talking about who is responsible for the case now,” he said.
“What I can tell you is that the provincial administration first working on rescue and the main priority is to save lives,” added Kheang Phearum.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said on Sunday that he would be traveling to Sihanoukville, west of the capital Phnom Penh, to oversee the rescue efforts.
Minister of Interior Sar Kheng issued a statement saying the ministry would investigate to find out the cause of the disaster and take actions against any individuals involved in unlawful acts.
Phnom Penh municipal officials and the Ministry of Land Management Urban Planning and Construction said the construction was improper.
The Chinese embassy in Phnom Penh issued a statement supporting the Cambodian government’s efforts to investigate and take legal action against those responsible for the disaster.
Police said on Saturday they had arrested four Chinese and Cambodians who were in charge of the construction and were holding them pending investigation.
The BBC reported on Sunday that the Chinese building owner, the head of the construction firm and the contractor were arrested and a Cambodian landowner was taken in for questioning.
Am Sam Ath, deputy director of the Cambodia rights group LICADHO, urged the government to set up an independent commission to investigate the collapse of the building.
Chinese investment has flowed into casinos, hotels and real estate in Preah Sihanouk province and its largest town, Sihanoukville, turning the once sleepy seaside town into a flash point for Cambodians concerned about Chinese economic penetration of their country.
Cambodians complain about unscrupulous business practices, gangland violence and unbecoming behavior by growing crowds of Chinese investors and tourists drawn to Sihanoukville and a nearby Chinese Special Economic Zone connected to Beijing’s Belt and Road global infrastructure initiative.
Last month Sihanoukville authorities shut down a Chinese-owned casino accused of polluting an adjacent beach following the casino’s defiance of orders to cease operations.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Zakariya Tin. Written in English by Paul Eckert.