Gov’t Opens Siem Reap Weapons Museum

Siem Reap officials, who shut down a popular land mine museum because they didn’t want to “frighten” tourists, have given their blessing to a new weapons museum—run by the military.

Morn Samon, military police commander for Siem Reap, said the new museum will be run by Ministry of Defense, which is better qualified to run a safe operation.

“This does not frighten the visitor at all,” he said. “We run it with army experts.” He said the new museum was opened unofficially on Monday, and, if it proves popular, will be officially opened at a later date and expanded to in­clude more exhibits.

However, Aki Ra, the former soldier and demining expert who opened the original Land Mine Museum two years ago, said there is nothing unsafe about his museum and the military wants to throw him out of business so it can make more money.

His museum, located on a patch of former farmland off the main road to the Angkor Wat complex north of Siem Reap, was a popular tourist attraction that drew several hundred visitors a day back when it was advertised on a banner over the main road.

Aki Ra’s museum displayed hundreds of mines, weapons and other military equipment, with some deactivated mines de­ployed in a naturalistic setting so visitors could see how difficult they are to spot.

Police and military officials began trying to shut Aki Ra down more than a year ago, ordering him to take down the advertising banner.

They said they had found live ammunition among his displays, and that some of the military equipment was not safe.

Aki Ra denied the allegations, and complained that they confiscated some of his exhibits. The former soldier, who fought with the Khmer Rouge, Vietnamese-affiliated and government armies at various stages, said the military wanted to run their own museum.

He said his museum remains open, although with no banner out on the main road, he gets no more than 20 to 50 visitors a day. He said he has visited the new military museum, and they are displaying some of the equipment they confiscated from him, though Morn Samon denies this.

He is continuing to collect signatures on petitions asking the govern­ment to allow him to stay in business, he said. But provincial officials have made it clear “they don’t want to hear any more about it,” he said.

The new museum, located off Route 6 near the airport, and is being operated on a trial basis. Tickets are $3 for foreigners and 1,000 riel for Cambodians.

Morn Samon said that military officials believe that while Aki Ra is a skilled deminer, his civilian status means he does not have the right to run a military museum.

Aki Ra, meanwhile, said he will continue to keep his museum open and hope he receives enough in donations to cover its costs.


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