Museum Owner Given Suspended Sentence

The owner of Cambodia’s first museum dedicated to land mines and weapons of war has been given a six-month suspended sentence for operating beyond the restrictions of his license, a court official said Sunday.

“Mr Aki Ra had a license only to exhibit [nonexplosive] shells of mines, but he exhibited all kinds of unusable weapons and uniforms from all types of factions and units,” said Nem Sovath, a Siem Reap provincial court prosecutor.

Aki Ra, a former soldier and expert deminer, will not have to serve any jail time unless he commits another crime, at which time six months would be tacked onto his sentence, Nem Sovath said.

“The jail term is suspended because the judges understand that he had a license to operate his museum, and his only fault was exhibiting at his museum more than what was licensed,” he said.

But Aki Ra said the museum can continue to operate. He said he came to Phnom Penh to ask permission from the Cambodian Mine Action Center and the central government to keep his museum open.

Aki Ra attributed the suspended sentence to the fact that the court “noticed how [the museum] attracts tourists, who tell the authorities of its benefits.”

The museum, opened in 1999 off the main road between Siem Reap town and Angkor Wat, has a large collection, including rifles, bullets and a 225-kg bomb from a US warplane.

There is a walk-through garden full of deactivated, hidden mines. Visitors are encouraged to search for the mines, while Aki Ra shows how to disarm them.

The purpose of the museum is to heighten awareness about land mines. Cambodia is still peppered with millions of mines, which kill and maim hundreds of people yearly.

Tourism officials, hoping to shed the war-time stigma that discourages visitors, have said Aki Ra’s material is inappropriate. In October, authorities stepped up pressure on Aki Ra, who was found to have live ordnances locked in a shed, waiting to be handed over to a Japanese NGO to be defused.

 

 

 

 

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