Cam­bo­dian schools told to stop re­cy­cling war-era bombs as bells

The Nation - - ASEANPLUS / THAILAND - PHNOM PENH

CAM­BO­DIA’S gov­ern­ment has told schools across the coun­try to stop con­vert­ing war-era ord­nance into school bells to pre­vent pos­si­ble ex­plo­sions.

Nearly three decades of civil war and US bomb­ing start­ing in the 1960s left Cam­bo­dia one of the most heav­ily bombed and mined coun­tries in the world.

Turn­ing bombs or shells into bells was a wide­spread prac­tice im­me­di­ately af­ter the fall of the Kh­mer Rouge in 1979, when Cam­bo­dia’s ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem was de­stroyed and teach­ers used any ma­te­rial avail­able.

The shells are nor­mally de­ac­ti­vated by the time they are put into use. But ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter Hang Chuon Naron said dem­i­ning au­thor­i­ties ad­vised him risks still re­mained when the bells are struck or in the process of be­ing re­pur­posed.

Ed­u­ca­tion au­thor­i­ties must in­form all schools to “stop tak­ing un­ex­ploded ord­nance to be im­pro­vised as bells”, he said in a let­ter seen by AFP on Wednesday.

There no known re­ports of the bells ex­plod­ing, but chil­dren have been killed in blasts on school grounds af­ter play­ing with other kinds of dug-up ord­nance such as grenades and land­mines.

In Jan­uary last year thou­sands of Cam­bo­dian vil­lagers were evac­u­ated af­ter two US tear gas bar­rel bombs from the Viet­nam war era were found near a pri­mary school in Svay Vieng prov­ince.

Heng Ratana, di­rec­tor of Cam­bo­dian’s Mine Ac­tion Cen­tre, said the min­istry’s move was an ex­tra step of cau­tion. “We don’t al­low them to use be­cause some [de­ac­ti­vated] bombs may still have fuse in­side and when we hit it, the bomb might ex­plode,” he said.

He said it would also help “end con­fu­sion” among chil­dren, who may also try to strike un­ex­ploded ord­nance when they find it in dayto-day life be­cause they saw teach­ers hit the bell at school.

Un­ex­ploded ord­nance has killed around 20,000 peo­ple and maimed tens of thou­sands of oth­ers since 1979, though rates have de­clined sig­nif­i­cantly and a num­ber of dem­i­ning or­gan­i­sa­tions op­er­ate in the coun­try.

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