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Divers clear bomb boat

Two tonnes of explosives have been recovered from the wreckage of a ship in the Tonle Sap river, which is believed to have been manned by soldiers from the Lon Nol government.

More live munitions are expected to be removed from the submerged vessel in Kampong Chnnang province in the coming month, as divers from the Cambodian Mine Action Centre clear the site.

Kampong Chhnang provincial governor Touch Marim said yesterday that a man fishing on the river in the province’s Rolea Ba'ier district discovered the wreckage first. Local officials later referred the matter to CMAC, from which a team was dispatched to the area last Thursday.

Hundreds of unexploded rockets have since been discovered on board the shipwreck, Touch Marim added.

“The boat was sunk during the fighting between Lon Nol’s forces and the Khmer Rouge in the early 1970s,” he said. “These kinds of rockets, even after sitting in the mud for 100 years, can still explode, so that’s why we have to take them out.”

CMAC director general Heng Ratana said yesterday that more than two tonnes of rockets had been recovered from the wreck so far and were being stored pending their destruction.

“We found lots of unexploded munitions, most 105 mm, 80 mm and 60 mm [rockets],” he said. “The rockets can still explode … and there are many more under water.”

The wooden ship measures roughly eight-metres wide and 20-metres long and currently sits below 10 metres of water, Heng Ratana said, with CMAC divers swimming down to the riverbed to remove the explosives.

“I think our operation will take one month to complete,” he said.

Heng Ratana said the munitions from the wreck would be destroyed at some point next week.

Historian David Chandler, a professor emeritus at Australia’s Monash University, said yesterday that Lon Nol’s forces would have had trouble travelling overland in much of Cambodia during the early 1970s, making river travel an attractive option.

He added, however, that vessels such as the one found in Kampong Chhnang were likely scarce.

“As far as I know, the Lon Nol navy wasn’t very large,” he said. “I don’t think there’s lots of ships like that to be discovered.”

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JAMES O'TOOLE

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