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In Cambodia, second 500-pound bomb pulled from river

Demining teams salvage US-manufactured bomb that had been sent by Vietnam to Lon Nol regime, but sunk by ultra-Maoist Khmer Rouge

23.03.2016
In Cambodia, second 500-pound bomb pulled from river United States-manufactured MK-82 aircraft bomb salvaged in stretch of Mekong river in southern Kandal province in May 2015

Phnum Penh

By Lauren Crothers

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia

A 500-pound bomb was salvaged Wednesday from a Cambodian river just north of the capital, a week after a team newly trained in retrieving underwater ordnance also pulled four artillery shells from a spot nearby.

The mission in the Tonle Sap river brings to two the number of United States-manufactured MK-82 aircraft bombs that have been salvaged from Cambodian waterways in under a year.

Last May, the team was dispatched to a stretch of the Mekong river in southern Kandal province, where they lifted and defused a MK-82 that failed to detonate on impact when it was dropped sometime during the early 1970s.

Cambodia is among the countries most contaminated by ordnance following decades of war in neighboring Vietnam, its own civil war, the brutal Khmer Rouge regime that followed, and the dropping of around 500,000 tons of explosives by the United States.

An official from a demining NGO that trained the Cambodian Mine Action Centre’s Dive Team said Wednesday that the newly salvaged remnants of war were discovered -- like last year’s bomb -- after fishermen from riparian communities were approached as part of an outreach program spearheaded by the British Embassy.

“Through this meeting, fishermen said they had found [some remnants] and thought there might be a bunch,” Allen Tan, the country manager for the Golden West Humanitarian Foundation, told Anadolu Agency.

“The team investigated and started finding shells… over the course of a search that lasted since last week,” he added. “This week, during a follow-up, a fisherman said ‘we have found an aircraft bomb also’.”

The area in question is called Preak Pnuv, a 45-minute drive north of Phnom Penh, near a rice flour factory.

Unlike last year’s MK-82 bomb, these remnants were cargo on one of the many weapons supply ships sent by Vietnam to the Lon Nol regime, but sunk by ultra-Maoist Khmer Rouge soldiers as they advanced.

The four 105-mm artillery shells “are consistent with that type found in shipping configurations,” Tan said, adding that the search for more will continue until the team is satisfied that the contamination has been dealt with.

One of the shells was packed with white phosphorous, an explosive material capable of burning through flesh.

The MK-82, which was retrieved in a similar fashion to the bomb last year, using an inflatable parachute bag that raised it to the river surface, was found to be missing a fuse.

According to Tan, the part’s absence made it no less dangerous, particularly if any attempts had been made to use it for scrap metal.

Cutting into it could flatten an entire village, he said.

Its explosive contents will serve a purpose, however.

“The contents of this bomb will be used to destroy landmines in Cambodia,” Tan said, underlining that the teams produce 3,000 to 5,000 humanitarian demining charges every year.

The team is set to explore at least 10 more sites where possible munitions are contaminating waterways.

An estimated 2,000 square kilometers (772 square miles) of land are affected by ordnance, several thousand tons of which can be found in Cambodia’s rivers.

According to the Cambodian Mine/ERW Victim Information System, more than 64,400 casualties have been recorded since 1979 -- at least 19,701 of whom died and 8,953 had to have limbs amputated.

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