The Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC) is planning on expanding its operations into the country’s rivers and lakes, where officials say vast caches of unexploded ordnance and munitions are left over from fighting between the Khmer Rouge and the Lon Nol regime in the 1970s.
Sitting there for decades, the weapons of war have killed fishermen and obstructed construction projects. Only last month, an explosion disrupted the pouring of concrete for a bridge near Kandal province.
“This is quite important. We provide safety for our people, and safety for national and international-related security,” CMAC director general Heng Ratana said. “And this capacity is also important for supporting the reconstruction of Cambodia, like building bridges. We need to provide the safety to keep that kind of construction as well.”
Contingent on expected funding from the US State Department, CMAC will train 40 of its staffers on how to scan riverbeds and clear unexploded ordnances, a technique that involves sonar technology and diving skills. Though a handful of CMAC personnel are equipped to carry out the clearances, the number of submerged bombs means more manpower is needed.
“We believe that there are still a lot of them,” said Ratana, who hopes to start the training “as soon as possible”, though flooding could delay it until early next year.
The caches are mostly along parts of the Mekong river in Kampong Chhnang and Kandal provinces, said CMAC’s public information office, Sam Socheath. After Lon Nol seized power in the 1970 coup, Socheath said, the Khmer Rouge harassed his forces with attacks that involved the sinking of Navy vessels.
Along with leftover bombardments that landed in bodies of water, unexploded ordnances went down with the ships.
To contact the reporter on this story: Joe Freeman at [email protected]