Thousands of Cambodians to be evacuated after US bombs from Vietnam War found

PHNOM PENH (AFP) - Thousands of Cambodian villagers will be evacuated after two US tear gas barrel bombs from the Vietnam war era were found near a primary school, a demining team said Tuesday (Jan 24).

The 200-kg bombs are thought to have been dropped by US warplanes in February 1970 against communist forces on Cambodia's south-eastern border with Vietnam.

Heng Ratana, director general of the Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC), said villagers, including 200 students, will have to be evacuated before deminers move into the village in Svay Rieng province.

"We will have to evacuate students because the bombs contain chemical and explosive substances," he told AFP.

Heng Ratana said the two barrel bombs are believed to be packed with CS - a form of tear gas that was extensively used by American forces to smoke out enemies from jungle hideouts.

The bombs are believed to be among a total of four pieces of ordnance dropped over the province by US warplanes in February 1970.

Locals told CMAC that two of the bombs exploded and damaged a Buddhist dinning hall in the province at the time.

Nearly three decades of civil war starting in the 1960s left Cambodia, along with neighbouring Laos, one of the most heavily bombed and mined countries in the world.

Between the late 1960s and early 1970s, the United States dropped upwards of 2.7 million tons of bombs on Cambodia during its efforts to cut off supply routes to northern Vietnam.

Unexploded ordnance has killed nearly 20,000 people and maimed tens of thousands of others since 1979, according to official estimates.