Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday condemned a US Embassy statement on chemical bombs found in Svay Rieng province, describing it as an “insult” to Cambodians and a distortion of facts.
The US Embassy posted the statement on its Facebook page on Thursday, saying the Cambodian Mine Action Authority had known about the presence of the tear gas bombs in Svay Rieng province for many years.
Though the use of tear gas is controversial, clear procedures exist by which to dispose of it, and there is no evidence linking it to long-term health problems or birth defects, the embassy said.
“We regret ongoing efforts to politicise this humanitarian issue. The United States believes we should all work together to clear explosive remnants of war in Cambodia and throughout the world,” the embassy said, adding the US also takes seriously its responsibility to address its own war legacies and is always willing to consider sincere requests for assistance.
Addressing workers at a meeting on Koh Pich yesterday, Mr Hun Sen said it was frustrating the US Embassy was dismissing the severity of the bombs in Svay Rieng province.
He said the bombs used by the US in the Indochina wars were not simply tear gas.
“At that time, the US dropped chemical weapons on Cambodia, but today they say it was just tear gas,” he said.
The Prime Minister called on the US to send a UN team of biological inspectors to Cambodia to neutralise the chemicals in Svay Rieng, rather than issuing a statement to distort the facts.
“How can we leave residents living with chemical weapons, which we have not yet studied completely? How can we eliminate these toxic substances?
“I hope the US ambassador will study this issue carefully. Their statement seems to insult the lives of Cambodian people,” he said.
Earlier reports indicated that bombs rediscovered this year in Svay Rieng province’s Korki commune contained CS gas, which is a type of tear gas.
However, Mr Hun Sen said it was not yet known exactly what chemicals the bombs contained.
Heng Ratana, director-general of the Cambodian Mine Action Centre, said there are several types of CS substances – some that dissolve in air and water and others that do not.
He said tests on residue samples indicate the type of chemical in the bombs was of the more harmful variant, which does not dissolve in air and water.
“We are extremely concerned about the safety of people living in the area where the bombs were dropped,” he said.
The Ministry of Health has meanwhile identified more than 30 people thought to have been affected by chemical bombs in Svay Rieng province.
According to a ministry statement, Kantha Bopha Hospital was treating three children, while Svay Rieng provincial referral hospital received 29 patients who had been exposed to old chemical weapons.