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Cambodian Arms Depot Explodes, Causing Deaths, Injuries

An explosion at an ammunitions depot in northern Cambodia sent bullets and shells flying through the air, killing at least five people and leaving a score wounded. In this VOA report, Kate Woodsome in Phnom Penh reports that the depot dates back to the Cambodian civil war of the 1970s.

The city of Battambang saw more than its share of fighting during Cambodia's 1970s civil war. In the early hours of Thursday morning, it sounded like the war had returned.

Residents were awakened around 2:30 a.m. by the sound of gunfire. Rifle and machine gun bullets, artillery and mortar shells shot into the surrounding countryside, with some ordnance reportedly raining down on houses as far as 20 kilometers away.

The cause was an explosion of unknown origin at a Vietnam War-era arms depot, two kilometers outside the city.

Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith suggested that Cambodia's hot temperatures set off the explosion. He said an investigation would be conducted to determine the exact cause, once it is safe to enter the buildings.

Khieu Kanharith says no one dares to go into the two warehouses at the moment.

He said the explosion took place in two adjoining arms warehouses, one belonging to the provincial military and the other to the Ministry of National Defense.

Kry Chamroeun, an employee of a local radio and television station, who lives near the depot, said ammunition damaged the station's antenna and roof. He said he ran to the river to seek shelter from the explosions.

He said the residents' fear and panic Thursday was reminiscent of the day the victorious Khmer Rouge entered Battambang, about 250 kilometers northwest of Phnom Penh, when the war ended on April 17, 1975.

Battambang remained a Khmer Rouge stronghold, even after the genocidal Marxist regime was thrown out of power in 1979. Khieu Kanharith said he did not know how many tons of ammunition, used during the civil war, was still being stored in the depot at the time of the explosion.

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