A forest fire near the Preah Vihear temple complex caused decades-old landmines and other unexploded ordnance to explode on Sunday, according to regional military commander Duong Sam Neang.
Local media had reported the fire disturbed a functioning Royal Cambodian Armed Forces armoury. However, Neang denied those claims, saying explosions reported by villagers were caused by leftover armaments from past conflicts.
“The area surrounding the Preah Vihear temple is a demilitarised zone,” said Neang. “access is restricted by [UNESCO’s] World Heritage Committee, so there is no armoury as was broadcast by some media.”
The fire, said Neang, started at 11am on Sunday, setting alight bamboo thickets at the base of the Preah Vihear promontory. The resulting heat led to the explosion of landmines and two 80mm bombs, he said.
Preah Vihear was more recently the site of armed confrontations between 2008 and 2011, when neighbouring Thailand deployed troops after UNESCO’s decision to list the temple complex as a Cambodian World Heritage site.
In the 1980s, the Vietnam-backed Cambodian government laid a 130-kilometre minefield along its border with Thailand in an effort to keep Khmer Rouge guerrillas at bay.
The Cambodian Mine Action Centre has said it will attempt to clear the mines, although mine clearance NGO Halo Trust said last month that previous clearance initiatives were met with protestations of “not yet” from the government.