The government’s weapons crackdown not only has taken the guns out of criminal hands, but out of the hands of the national sharp-shooting team as well.
Team members said last week the crackdown blew their chances of winning medals at the recent Southeast Asian Games in Brunei and is all but ruling them out of the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.
“Since the crackdown we can’t handle guns,” said 28-year-old Sum Sokha. “Because of the weapons ban we regret that we had very little practice before the games. All we could do in Brunei is look at the medals we may have won but did not.”
Added 29-year-old fellow team member Tep Saran: “Competitors from Vietnam and Thailand brought their personal guns to the games but we couldn’t, we had to borrow guns from the Brunei Shooting Federation.”
The team, which won medals during the 1997 SEA Games in Jakarta, could manage only a fifth place among 10 nations.
The Ministry of Interior announced the nationwide ban on guns April 2. Chea Sophara, first deputy governor of Phnom Penh, said at the time that the crackdown would curb kidnappings and other serious crime.
But the ban also extended to licensed gun holders and shut down shooting ranges, effectively putting an end to shooting as a sport.
Meas Sarin, secretary-general of the National Olympic Committee, confirmed Wednesday the national team was forced to borrow weapons at the games.
The cost was high, “but worse than that, the team was not able to get used to the new weapons,” said Meas Sarin. “But we cannot say the team lost at the games because we still got three points.”
Prum Bunyi, director of the National Olympic Committee, said he supports the sports shooters’ plight, but also said he favors the present law until a government regulated shooting range is built.
“I think there won’t be any problems relating to the future of the national team because we are planning to build a government regulated firing range,” he said.
But until then, he acknowledged, “the team cannot practice in Cambodia. If they want to practice shooting they will have to go abroad.”
General Ouk Kim Lek, director of administration at the Ministry of Interior, noted that shooting ranges were shut down because they allowed people including minors to fire guns for entertainment and not just sport. He said the Interior Ministry is not against sport shooting but the sport must be regulated.
“I think that if the [national shooting] team applies for permission again and clarifies that the shooting will be for sport only, the government would give permission,” he said.
However, Ouk Kim Lek could give no time frame for how long it would take to change the directive so the sports shooters could participate. “I could not say how long it will take as it will have to go through many levels of hierarchy in the ministry.”
By then, it might be too late.
Ly Sorsane, technical director of the Cambodian Shooting Federation, said the possibility of the Cambodian national shooting team participating in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney is in serious doubt unless the government takes swift action.
“This is not an issue just for sport shooters but also for the whole nation,” Ly Sorsane said.
In the meantime, national team members say they can only wait and puzzle over why the directive applies to them.
Stressed Sum Sokha: “We use guns lawfully but are punished because of those who do not.”