Prime Minister Hun Sen has instructed officials to continue searching for unexploded ordnance (UXO) in and around a shipwreck in the Mekong River and in four other areas of Kandal and Prey Veng provinces.
The wreck is a warship that sank during the civil war between 1970 and 1975. Officials said the four areas include Kandal’s Lvea Em and Khsach Kandal districts and Prey Veng’s Peam Chor and Peamro districts.
Mey Sophea, commander of the UXO Clearance Unit of the National Centre for Peacekeeping Forces and Explosive Remnants of War Clearance (NPMEC-ERW), told The Post that the decision to continue underwater salvage operations came after the operation in Meanchey commune’s Veal village of Kampong Cham province’s Srei Santhor district was judged to be nearing completion.
Sophea said since October last year, the clearing operations in Kampong Cham has recovered 15,282kg of UXO, some weapons and skeletal human remains.
The warship will be lifted from the Mekong River bed at the end of this month or in early April.
Sophea said Hun Sen had given his permission to expand UXO search on January 26. The prime minister said it was necessary that all UXO left over from the war – whether it is underground, on land or underwater – must be removed so that Cambodia can enjoy full peace and security.
“The prime minister cares about the next generation’s safety. Left intact, the underwater UXO could in the next 100 years turn into other toxic substances and such pollution of the river water affects every Cambodian,” he said.
“Another [related matter] is that Cambodia has ratified the Ottawa Treaty, which includes a pledge ensuring there are no mines on Cambodian territory by 2025, and UXO are also included in the treaty,” he said.
According to Sophea, his team has been preparing to begin search and clearance operations at the four other sites starting as early as next week.
This operation will start at Lvea Em district’s Boeung Krom commune of Kandal province. It will take one year to clear all four locations, he said.
According to preliminary research, the site where the warship sank in the river in Lvea Em district’s Boeung Krom commune is estimated to have been carrying 500 tonnes of UXO in the form of ammunition shipped from a site located in modern-day Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam.
Known then as Saigon – at the time the capital city of South Vietnam – it was the site of the largest US military bases during the Vietnam War, a conflict which roughly coincided with the period of civil war in Cambodia.