The Cambodian Mine Action Authority (CMAA) has called on the United States to play a more aggressive role in working with them to clear explosive remnants of war, including chemical bombs.
According to a letter signed by CMAA secretary-general Ly Thuch and sent to US ambassador William A. Heidt on Thursday, Mr Thuch said the CMAA neither knew the location of chemical bombs in Svay Rieng nor received any training on how to handle them from US military experts.
Last week, the US embassy in Phnom Penh claimed that CMAA knew about the presence of chemical bombs in Svay Rieng province for many years and received two rounds of detailed training in 2015 and 2016 from US military experts on how to deal with them.
A total of 96 people, including 67 women, have sought medical treatment for suspected exposure to chemical bombs at Svay Rieng Provincial Hospital. Most of the villagers had skin and respiratory complaints.
According to ongoing studies carried out in Turkey, a group of doctors said lung functions had declined, victims had signs of chemical lung injury which reduced their respiratory capacity and suffered asthma-like conditions. Respiratory complaints, nose, eye and skin complaints were suspected to be long term effects of exposure to CS gas.
Mr Thuch said many Cambodians reacted to the embassy statement after it claimed there is no evidence linking the gas to long-term health problems or birth defects.
“They [Cambodian people] would like to remind a super power like the US that the health and lives of people living in a small, developing county such as Cambodia does matter as much as your citizens,” he said.
“As a country which manufactured the bombs and brought them to Cambodia, it would be more effective to remove them and minimise their risks if the US promptly cooperated with Cambodian authorities as requested,”
Mr Thuch added that the problem of landmines and explosive remnants of war, including the chemical bombs in Svay Rieng, remains a significant humanitarian issue facing Cambodia for many years to come.
“We are encouraged by the US’s sincere intent in taking responsibility to address its war legacies and its willingness to consider our sincere request for assistance,” he said.
An article published this year by the respected New York Magazine and written by a medical expert on the long term effects of exposure to tear gas said it “reduced respiratory capacity – so, reduced oxygen in your blood, which can lead to asthma-like conditions. Again, we don’t yet know what the effect over the course of these victims’ lives will be.
“But I’m concerned. If there are severe respiratory exposures, this can lead to a decline in lung function that may not be observed initially – that has been found in people who have been exposed to similar agents in industrial accidents, for example.”