Photo by: Michael Hayes
Saem Ponnreay, CMAC Unit 3 director in Sa Em village in Preah Vihear province, displays the remains of a 155mm cluster bomb, which he claims was fired by the Thai military and landed in Svay Cherum
village on February 6.
The Cambodian Mine Action Centre is preparing to dispatch a team to search for cluster munitions allegedly used by Thai forces during military clashes along the border last month, CMAC director general Heng Ratana said today.
Thousands of families were displaced last month during clashes between Thai and Cambodian troops near Preah Vihear temple that left at least 10 people dead.
As these families return to their homes, Heng Ratana said they are still at grave risk of being injured by cluster munitions.
“We are very concerned about the upcoming rainy season,” Heng Ratana said.
“Villagers will need to go out and do farming, but now the area is full of cluster bombs.”
Thai officials have denied using cluster munitions in the fighting, alleging that Cambodian troops had in fact deployed the weapons.
Cambodian forces have rejected this claim.
Cluster bombs are designed to split open before impact to scatter multiple bomblets over a wide area.
Such bomblets often lie dormant for many years before exploding and maiming or killing the civilians who happen upon them.
Much of eastern Cambodia has been affected by the weapons as a result of American bombing in the 1970s.
Neither Cambodia nor Thailand are among the 51 countries to have ratified the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, which seeks to outlaw the weapons, however.
Heng Ratana said today that two Cambodians had been killed and eight injured as a result of cluster bombs deployed near Preah Vihear.
Following the four days of clashes last month, CMAC announced that it had dispatched an “emergency response” team to the border area to instruct local residents on how to identify and avoid the weapons.
CMAC also plans to send weapons experts to the area to find and clear cluster munitions before they harm unsuspecting villagers, Heng Ratana said.
“We are waiting until the situation returns to normal and then we will deploy a large search team, because the cluster bombs may remain on the ground or in the forest,” he said.
Chum Puy, governor of Kulen district in Preah Vihear province, said posters had been put up throughout the border area to remind the 2,678 families displaced in the fighting about the dangers of cluster munitions as they return to their homes.
Huot Senheang, 22, of Kulen’s Thamacheat village, said residents understand the risks of cluster munitions but may find them difficult to avoid as they return to their daily lives.
“Villagers are afraid of cluster bombs, but they have no choice because they need to return home for farming,” he said.