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

  • Hong Kong firm done buying Coke Cambodia

    Swire Coca-Cola Ltd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Hong Kong-listed Swire Pacific Ltd, on November 25 announced that it had completed the acquisition of The Coca-Cola Co’s bottling business in Cambodia, as part of its ambitions to expand into the Southeast Asian market. Swire Coca-Cola affirmed

  • Cambodia's Bokator now officially in World Heritage List

    UNESCO has officially inscribed Cambodia’s “Kun Lbokator”, commonly known as Bokator, on the World Heritage List, according to Minister of Culture and Fine Arts Phoeurng Sackona in her brief report to Prime Minister Hun Sen on the night of November 29. Her report, which was

  • NagaWorld union leader arrested at airport after Australia trip

    Chhim Sithar, head of the Labour Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees at NagaWorld integrated casino resort, was arrested on November 26 at Phnom Penh International Airport and placed in pre-trial detention after returning from a 12-day trip to Australia. Phnom Penh Municipal Court Investigating Judge

  • Angkor Beer, 30 Years of Prestige and Still Counting

    Let’s celebrate 30 years of prestige with Angkor Beer. In this 2022, Angkor Beer is 30 years old and has been staying with Cambodian hearts in all circumstances. Head of core beer portfolio, EmYuthousaid, “We have been with Cambodians for three decades now. We, ANGKOR Beer, pride

  • Sub-Decree approves $30M for mine clearance

    The Cambodian government established the ‘Mine-Free Cambodia 2025 Foundation’, and released an initial budget of $30 million. Based on the progress of the foundation in 2023, 2024 and 2025, more funds will be added from the national budget and other sources. In a sub-decree signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen

  • Two senior GDP officials defect to CPP

    Two senior officials of the Grassroots Democratic Party (GDP) have asked to join the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), after apparently failing to forge a political alliance in the run-up to the 2023 general election. Yang Saing Koma, chairman of the GDP board, and Lek Sothear,