PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – A village in eastern Cambodia will have to be largely evacuated next month when two large bombs left over from the Vietnam War containing a powerful tear gas are excavated from the grounds of a Buddhist temple, demining experts said Tuesday.
Heng Ratana, director of the Cambodian Mine Action Center, said four bombs with CS gas were dropped in the village in Svay Rieng province by U.S. aircraft in February 1970, and two that didn’t explode were buried by villagers. Similar bombs have been discovered elsewhere in Cambodia.
Recently alerted by current residents, an expert from his agency found the two bombs, estimated to weigh about 250 kilograms (550 pounds) each, buried just meters (yards) away from a school. Heng Ratana said he has asked officials for a partial evacuation of monks, students and other villagers for up to a week while the bombs are disposed of early next month.
The United States secretly bombed eastern Cambodia beginning in 1969 to hinder its use as a sanctuary for communist Vietnamese forces attacking what was then U.S.-backed South Vietnam.
U.S. forces, which openly intervened in 1970, dropped about 2.8 million tons of bombs on Cambodia until halting the bombing in 1973.
Most of the bombs were conventional explosives, but others contained chemical agents such as CS gas, which was sometimes used to try to flush guerrillas out of tunnels and caves where they hid. CS gas – actually a fine powder – is a common riot-control weapon, used as an alternative to conventional lethal force. It causes burning eyes, coughing, breathing difficulty, stinging skin, and vomiting.
The use of CS gas in the Vietnam War was initially controversial because it arguably was in violation of international laws of war banning the use of asphyxiating gases. It also posed a public relations dilemma for U.S. authorities, who did not want to be accused of using chemical warfare. However, its use became common as the war escalated, and it was delivered in several forms, ranging from grenades to bombs.
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