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US tear gas bombs found at pagoda

Cambodian Mine Action Centre officials confer in Svay Reing province’s Koki village, where two US-made tear-gas bombs are awaiting removal. Photo supplied
Cambodian Mine Action Centre officials confer in Svay Reing province’s Koki village, where two US-made tear-gas bombs are awaiting removal. Photo supplied

US tear gas bombs found at pagoda

The Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC) has been alerted to two unexploded tear-gas barrel bombs dropped by the US in a Svay Rieng province pagoda complex during the Kingdom’s civil war in 1970, CMAC director-general Heng Ratana said yesterday.

Ratana said the bombs, found near a primary school within the pagoda’s grounds, contained chlorobenzalmalononitrile (CS gas), also known as tear gas, and were among four to hit the site in February 1970.

He said while two blew up the pagoda’s dining hall, the unexploded ordnance was buried by local residents at the time and remained undisturbed until a recent tip-off by military police.

“We received the information and sent our team last week to interview three witnesses who participated in burying the bombs,” he said.

“This is not the first time that we have found these kinds of bombs, but the first time we found some in a crowded place like a school. In the past, we found them in the farms.”

Ratana said a CMAC team would return to the pagoda in Romeas Hek district’s Koki commune today to assess how to remove the bombs. He said the operation would likely take place early February on a weekend, during which time the school would be closed and nearby residents evacuated.

The US dropped at least 500,000 tonnes of explosives on the Kingdom during its bombing campaign against the Vietnamese, and later Cambodian communists, during the ’60s and ’70s, according to Cambodia scholar Ben Kieran.

CS gas was used extensively by the US during the war to clear enemy forces from tunnels and bunkers.

Though Ratana said news of the bombs had scared local residents, Koki commune chief Dom Sam Aun, said people would prefer they were left alone.

“We used to see such bombs during the ’70s,” Sam Aun said, recalling they made people’s lungs burn and skin itchy.

“Now, people are not worried, but we are worried that it might affect us when it is unearthed.”

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