SIEM REAP - Not long before provincial governor Toan Chay was adding to political
fireworks in Phnom Penh, workers building him a new office were lucky to avoid more
They last month stumbled upon thousands of unexploded shells underneath the construction
The find came when a construction crew started converting an old government meeting
house into an office building for the provincial governor of Siem Reap. While reccently
rehabilitating the grounds, a local resident informed the construction crew that
Lon Nol troops used to fire heavy artillery at the Khmer Rouge from this area. Given
the scale of the operation back in the 1970's, he believed there might have been
a few unused munitions left behind.
A French development agency, CIDEV, was alerted and its deminers have been uncovering
thousands of unexploded shells in the area to secure the grounds for future construction.
CIDEV de-miners believe that during the troop retreat by Lon Nol government forces,
they military hastily buried the shells and munitions in order to hide the explosives
from the Khmer Rouge.
After Lon Nol troops evacuated the area, it was abandoned for many years, but was
later used during the UNTAC period as a hospital, storage area and radio depot.
Jean Pierre Billault, Siem Reap regional director of CIDEV, said it was extraordinary
that, given the level of activity above ground, none of the shells or munitions exploded
during UNTAC's stay on the site.
"If [UNTAC] only knew about the hell that they were living on top of at that
time," he said. "There was an enormous storage warehouse and there were
many heavy vehicles moving around applying great pressure on the ground. If there
had been any kind of fire, especially caused by gasoline,-there would have surely
been an explosion."
CIDEV has so far found roughly 1,500 US-made artillery shells and other munitions.
Billault said CIDEV uncovers an average of 150 munitions a day.
Billault said his greatest concern is that children might play in potentially dangerous
areas of the grounds at night.