A lightning bolt killed three Cambodian soccer players and put three others in hospital at a match played during a monsoon season thunder-storm, officials said yesterday.

The victims, all in their 20s, were taking part in a tournament organised by the government to introduce the game to youngsters and ultimately to improve the strength of the national side, said Cambodia Soccer Federation president Sao Sokha.

Monday's freak incident in the southeast Asian nation's capital prompted a warning to players and coaches not to take to the field while thunderclouds loomed overhead - an almost daily occurence in the May-October rainy season.

"We encourage children to play the game, but they should not do so during bad weather," Sokha said.

Keo Vy of the National Disaster Committee said 40 people had been killed nationwide by lightning so far this year, nearly as many as the total killed for the whole of 2007. Reasons for the dramatic increase remain unclear.

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