Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Officials call on US to take responsibility for chemical bombs

Officials call on US to take responsibility for chemical bombs

Dauk Paris, a 22-year-old from Svay Rieng province, was born with a head deformity and an underdeveloped arm.
Dauk Paris, a 22-year-old from Svay Rieng province, was born with a head deformity and an underdeveloped arm. Sahiba Chawdhary

Officials call on US to take responsibility for chemical bombs

Defence Minister Tea Banh, Health Minister Mam Bunheng and Prime Minister Hun Sen’s son Hun Manith all visited Svay Rieng’s Koki commune last week, calling on the US to take responsibility for chemical weapons found there and blaming US chemical bombs for causing deformities in villagers.

Two Vietnam War-era barrel bombs containing CS tear gas were discovered in Koki commune in January. Demining officials began to excavate the bombs last month, following an anti-American tirade from Hun Sen. Since officials descended on the commune, at least 14 more “similar” bombs have been reported.

Bunheng visited the area on Thursday, and according to government-aligned media source Fresh News discovered three villagers suffering from birth defects.

“We have conducted medical checkups for the villagers and found three abnormal children. There are birth defects such as big heads, disproportionate mouths and skin allergies … I believe that it is caused by the US chemical bombs,” Bunheng told Fresh News.

As the government has ratcheted up its anti-US rhetoric in recent months – accusing it of colluding with the opposition to foment “colour revolution” – the bombs have become something of a political talking point.

A Post investigation last month revealed villagers in Svay Rieng living with birth defects commonly associated with Agent Orange, a defoliant used by the US military during the Vietnam War. But many officials, including the prime minister, have claimed the CS tear gas bombs caused birth defects, appearing to conflate the two chemicals, despite medical research to the contrary.

“Police departments around the world use CS gas. We are aware of no scientific studies linking CS gas to the conditions described by the Minister,” David Josar, deputy spokesman at the US Embassy, said in an email on Thursday.

Chemical weapons expert Richard Guthrie agreed that “there is no clear evidence that CS causes birth defects”.

Ly Sovann, spokesman for the Ministry of Health, confirmed in a message yesterday that the defects in Koki were likely caused by “chronic [exposure] to Orange agent weapons”, not CS tear gas.

However, Guthrie warned that conflating the two issues could actually hamper efforts to assist victims of Agent Orange.

“We need to treat these issues with scientific rigour. There is still much restitution needed in relation to the suffering caused by Agent Orange. Misplaced understandings about which substances can cause birth defects could weaken the efforts to get such restitution,” he said via email.

Defence Minister Banh, meanwhile, claimed on Friday that Cambodia has already formally requested assistance from the US but has yet to receive a reply. “We have informed via letter already. But there is no positive answer in time,” he said.

The US Embassy did not respond to a request for comment yesterday, but has repeatedly denied receiving a formal request to help with the disposal.

“For this time, we have made suggestions to confirm about the treaty,” Banh added, referencing the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) banning the use of tear gas in warfare.

But Paul Walker, vice chair of the board of the Arms Control Association, has previously pointed out that the CWC was signed in 1997 “so if these CS-filled munitions were used during the Vietnam War, it would not have been a violation”.

Meanwhile, Hun Manith, son of the prime minister and director of military intelligence, said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would lodge an official complaint with the United Nations.

“Our Foreign Affairs Ministry will urge the United Nations to recognise that Cambodia has remnants of chemical weapons,” Manith said, calling on the US to offer financial and technical support.

The US has contributed $160 million to demining efforts in Cambodia, and continues to supply $2 million annually.

Manith also took the opportunity to accuse the US of not fully recognising the impact of its bombing, saying it did “not accept that they dropped 2.7 million tonnes of bombs”.

Additional reporting by Kong Meta

MOST VIEWED

  • Kingdom’s domestic milk still cannot compete with imports

    Price competition and a lack of confidence by consumers are the main reasons the dairy market cannot compete with imports, said domestic milk producers. The large displays of imported fresh milk at the Kingdom’s supermarkets present a cumbersome obstacle for local producers, they said.

  • ‘Pesticide-laden cucumbers’ kill two, poison 150 in Banteay Meanchey

    At least two youths have died and 243 others are being treated for vomiting, diarrhoea, breathing difficulties, dizziness and muscle weakness after they ate cucumbers suspected to consist of pesticides. The incident happened on Saturday, said Banteay Meanchey provincial police chief Ath Khem. He told The

  • Three dead, 13 injured in collapse at Siem Reap pagoda

    At least three people were killed and more than 10 others injured on Monday after a dining hall under construction collapsed at Prasat Kokchak pagoda in Kokchak commune, Siem Reap province. Provincial police chief Tith Narong said Military Police, soldiers and local volunteers had successfully recovered 16

  • Forest Harmony’s $18M luxury villas break ground in Kampot

    Local and French joint-venture Forest Harmony has broken ground on its $18 million “second-home” Luxury Holiday Villas project in Kampot province. Century 21 Mekong CEO and local shareholder of the project Chrek Soknim told The Post that the project will comprise 90 villa units covering 18ha on a 97

  • China Unicom enters Cambodia

    China Unicom, the country’s largest telecoms operator, has expanded into Cambodia to build optical telecommunication pathways in the Kingdom as part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The Hong Kong-listed company officially opened its China Unicom (Cambodia) subsidiary on Monday to become the

  • PP-SHV Expressway on track for completion in early 2023

    The construction of the $1.9 billion Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville Expressway, which broke ground at the end of March, is on track to be completed by early 2023, Ministry of Public Works and Transport spokesman Vasim Sorya said on Monday. The 190km high-speed highway linking the capital to the