Nearly 50 Chinese anti-tank mines, buried for 20 years, have been unearthed by construction crews building a riverfront park in Chroy Chungvar, across from the Royal Palace.
Experts said Sunday they have no idea how many more mines might be out there, or exactly where they might be.
“It is very hard to estimate a number, because they are hiding deep underground,” said Tong Try, director of operations for the Cambodian Mines Action Center’s Phnom Penh office.
He said the mines are not equipped with detonators and are unlikely to explode. Between the project’s start in January and last week, 31 mines had been found; 18 more were unearthed on Friday.
Nhem Saran, director of the municipal department of public works and transportation, is in charge of the $300,000 project to build the riverfront park. He says there have been no explosions or injuries since site work started in January.
“According to the local people, there were no anti-tank mines installed underground” in the area during the war years, said Keo Khonn, police chief of Chroy Chungvar commune.
The villagers say the mines and a large number of artillery shells were cargo on a military ammunition boat that was overloaded and nearly sank off Chroy Chungvar in 1979 or 1980.
Soldiers trying to save the boat threw the ordnance overboard and then left, Keo Khonn said. During the chaos of the Vietnamese invasion, villagers never learned how much ammunition was out there or exactly where it was.
In the intervening years, Keo Khonn said, “people here sometimes found one piece of artillery or one land mine” and notified him. He said he routinely threw them farther out in the water to keep them away from children.
Officials say it will be difficult to figure out where additional mines might be because mud deposited during every rainy season has changed the riverbank over the past 20 years.
But they hope to come up with an answer soon, because the next phase of the project involves pumping mud from the riverbank to widen the river across from the Royal Palace.
Tong Try said the 49 mines will be destroyed today at a location outside the city.