The Prime Minister yesterday urged the US to assist Cambodia in removing unexploded bombs that its forces dropped on the country during the Vietnam War, rather than focussing on finding the remains of missing American soldiers.
His call came as the Defence Ministry met yesterday to discuss what to do with two tear gas barrel bombs found in Svay Rieng province earlier this year, believed to have been dropped by the US in the 1970s.
Speaking to about 10,000 garment workers in Phnom Penh, Mr Hun Sen said the US focusses on asking Cambodia to repay $500 million in war loans accrued during the Lon Nol era and on repatriating the remains of its troops, but fails to do anything to deal with the legacy of weapons it dropped on the country.
“They repeatedly demand Cambodia repay the loan, but do not bother to take back their bombs from Cambodia,” he said. “I hope the US government will consider this seriously. Do not just take the remains of your soldiers back from Cambodia, come and take the remaining bombs as well.”
The Cambodian Mine Action Centre first discovered the two unexploded CS gas barrel bombs in Svay Rieng province early this year. One was found at a primary school and the other at a pagoda in Korki commune.
However, CMAC was unable to safely remove or defuse them and was forced to leave the bombs where they were.
Mr Hun Sen called on US ambassador to Cambodia William Heidt to visit Svay Rieng province and see the bombs for himself.
“Mr Ambassador, please visit and tell us what to do with these bombs,” he said. “This is the responsibility of the US and should not be overlooked.”
Local resident Puth Khonn, 59, said she and other villagers have long suffered the effects of the bombs left by US troops.
She recalled how in 1986 she was clearing land for cultivation when she hit an unexploded gas bomb with the tool she was using. It emitted foul-smelling smoke that caused her eyes to tear up.
“Our villagers have been living in fear so we called on the government to safely remove the bombs that have been buried in our village,” she said.
“These tear-gas bombs affect the skin and made me cry even after I ran 400 metres from the site,” Ms Khonn added.
The Defence Ministry meeting on the bombs yesterday agreed that the National Authority for the Prohibition of Chemical, Nuclear Biological and Radiological Weapons and CMAC will tomorrow carry out an investigation into how to remove the devices.
They may have to evacuate 3,000 people, including monks and students, to protect their safety.
According to data released in 2000, the US dropped two million bombs – 800,000 tonnes’ worth – on Cambodia from 1963 to 1975, with the aim of destroying Viet Cong invaders.
However, more than 500,000 Cambodian citizens were killed and thousands of homes were destroyed.
Mines and unexploded bombs remain a leading cause of casualties and deaths in the kingdom, with an estimated four to six million landmines and other munitions left over from decades of war and internal conflict.