KANDAL: A Cambodian underwater demining team pulled an American-made bomb from the Mekong River for the first time on Thursday, as the country battles the wartime legacy of unexploded mines that have killed thousands.
Nearly three decades of civil war gripped Cambodia from the 1960s, leaving the poverty-stricken nation both one of the most heavily bombed and heavily mined countries in the world.
Teams of deminers face the unenviable task of trying to locate and safeguard huge quantities of unexploded ordinance that has killed nearly 20,000 people and wounded double that number since 1979. Underwater ordinance causes particular problems because few demining teams know how to dive.
Two years ago a group from the Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC) began training for underwater threats under the guidance of the Golden West Humanitarian Foundation, a demining charity.
And on Thursday they celebrated their first major success when they safely dredged the US-manufactured MK82 bomb under seven metres of muddy Mekong water and defused it.
“This task was very dangerous because we could not see the bomb under the water,” Sok Chenda, head of the dive team, said after the operation in Kandal, 35 kilometres east of Phnom Penh.
“We were only able to feel our way with our hands to find the bomb under water and make an evaluation,” he added.
Many members couldn’t even swim before the training began.
The half-ton bomb, located just 200 metres from a ferry pier, was likely dropped by either an American or Cambodian government aircraft in the late 1960s or early 1970s against Khmer Rouge opponents.
It was recently discovered by a fisherman who dived down to release his net after it became entangled on the bomb.
Published in Dawn, May 22nd, 2015