Prime Minister Hun Sen has ordered the Health Ministry to investigate the well-being of villagers living within the vicinity of an estimated 15 chemical bomb sites in Svay Rieng province’s Korki commune.
Speaking to thousands of workers at Veng Sreng street yesterday, Mr Hun Sen said chemical weapons experts had found many new bomb sites in the area, dating back to the Vietnam War.
“I have asked Health Minister Mam Bunheng to investigate the area,” he said. “We have been living with chemical bombs for more than 40 years. We need to investigate about how this affected the health of residents and their children.”
Last week, 10 villagers fell ill after being exposed to chemicals in a bomb they mistook for scrap metal. Out of the 10 affected, eight were sent to the provincial hospital.
They were subsequently discharged, but on Monday, three villagers among the 10 returned to hospital for further treatment. According to the trio, their eyes were hurting and they experienced severe headaches, disorientation, coughing and sore throats.
Mr Hun Sen said the US dropped chemical bombs during the Vietnam War without thinking about the human rights of people on the ground.
He added that Cambodia would appreciate help from US experts to resolve the issue.
“We welcome them to come and work on this,” he said. “They should not think only about repatriating the remains of US troops missing in Cambodia. They should also think about the chemical bombs.”
He pointed out that similar bombs had also been found in other provinces, including Tbong Khmum.
A report from the Svay Rieng provincial authority said 11 new chemical bomb sites had been reported by villagers believed to contain 14 bombs.
Six bombs were found in Ta Vaing, one in Korki, two in Trapaing Skun, three in Prey Kdey and two in Ta Sek villages.
The Cambodian Mine Action Centre has already installed warning signs at the sites.
Deputy district governor Sour Mol said that villagers have only recently started reporting bombs to the authorities, despite having come into contact with them frequently over the past 40 years.
CMAC director-general Heng Ratana said an expert team had identified 15 areas contaminated by chemical weapons in Korki and Ampil communes, not including one that has already been cleared.
So Sarorn, 29, one of the sick villagers in Korki commune, said he was discharged from hospital yesterday but is still coughing.
“Every day I am worried about my health. I am concerned it could cause me more severe health problems in the future,” he said.