Yan Sam En is a farmer in northeast Cambodia’s Chetr Borei district. One day, almost 20 years ago, the father of five was working in the forest close to his home when he found four cluster bombs, unexploded remnants of the U.S. carpet bombing that devastated the area in the 1960s.
A USELESS PERSON
“I didn’t want my children to play with the bombs, so I collected them, and as I did, one exploded. It blew off both my arms, and left me totally blind,” Sam En told Xinhua on Friday. “I was 43 years old. I’m almost 61 now, but time has not healed me.”
Sam En says he has been nothing but a burden to his family since the blast. He cannot do anything. He just sits at home all day. “The U.S. deprived me of everything. In a few seconds, I went from breadwinner to useless person.”
The cluster bombs that claimed Sam En’s eyes and arms are just a reminder of countless bombs that the U.S. dropped on Cambodia during the U.S.-Vietnam War, claiming countless other arms, legs and eyes, and thousands of lives. Between 1965 and 1973, the U.S. dropped 230,516 bombs in Cambodia. In April alone, at least five U.S. Mk 82 bombs, weighing about 500 pounds each, were found across the country. On May 5, a Cambodian bomb disposal team safely removed a U.S. bomb, weighing 2,000 pounds, from the Chaktomuk river opposite the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh.
“At that time, I saw U.S. warplanes flying around. They dropped bombs to cut off roads and bridges,” Sam En said. “We lived in fear every day and ran to hide in trenches when we heard the warplanes.”
Sam En said the U.S. has not provided any support to victims like him of its leftover bombs.
‘VICIOUS, UNDECLARED WAR’
Cambodian Prime Minister Samdech Techo Hun Sen wrote in his book “10 Years of Cambodia’s Journey, 1979-1989” that the bombings killed “tens of thousands of civilians” in a “vicious, undeclared war”
Ly Thuch, first vice president of the Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority (CMAA), said Cambodia is still suffering from the huge legacy of the U.S.-Vietnam war and Cambodia’s own internal conflicts. “There are a lot of bombs scattered on the ground, under the ground and in the water. We have not even conducted a large-scale search for underwater bombs, yet,” he told Xinhua.
“Unexploded ordnance is a constant danger. Villages, farmland and rice fields still contain explosive remnants of war and the affected land cannot be farmed,” he added.
Joseph Matthews of BELTEI International University in Phnom Penh said because of U.S. bombs many people have lost their lives or been maimed. According to the CMAA, from 1979 to March 2022, unexploded ordnance and landmines had killed 19,816 people and injured 45,175 others in Cambodia.
“I strongly believe that the U.S. is morally responsible for the suffering of these people and ethically and legally bound to adequately compensate the families of those who had lost their lives or were maimed by these unexploded ordnance and landmines,” Matthews told Xinhua.
WOUNDS TO BE HEALED
Chhum Thea is 62 now. He lost his left arm to a mine in Kampong Cham province in 1990.
“U.S. planes bombed my village often during the war. The earth trembled as if it was an earthquake,” he told Xinhua.
The bombs caused huge destruction. The U.S. must help Cambodia and compensate the innocent victims. I want the U.S. to heal the wounds that it created.”