On a quiet day, if you listen hard, you can still hear the sound of gunfire at Cambodia’s most famous killing field.
A shooting range where thrill-seeking visitors can fire AK-47s and M16s for fun is operating less than one kilometer from the Choeung Ek genocide memorial, where thousands of victims of the Khmer Rouge were killed and dumped in mass graves.
“Many tourists come here,” said one of the men who was operating the range. He gave his name only as Yak.
During a visit to the site on Wednesday, which is situated alongside a small RCAF military base nearby to Choeung Ek, a price list revealed a range of handguns including Glocks and Colt 45s available to shoot for $15, while larger automatic weapons such as M60s and K57s hung on display near the entrance.
Firing rocket launchers for $220, or lobbing a hand grenade into a pool of water for $50, could only be done at a site further away, a guide said.
Three Polish tourists, who arrived during the Wednesday visit, were given full camouflage uniforms before shooting off a few rounds.
According to Yak, the shooting range was legal, and had been situated on the site for a long time, but he would not reveal who managed it.
“Ask the government,” he said before adding in Khmer to another reporter: “Do not take this man here again. Asking questions will get him into trouble.”
Dangkao District military police commander Chim Rithy said Wednesday that he was unaware of the shooting range’s existence, referring further questions to the Interior Ministry, which he said was in charge of issuing permits for shooting ranges.
Contacted Wednesday evening, Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said he had never heard of the shooting range in question and would not comment further.
Documentation Center of Cambodia Executive Director Youk Chhang said the sound of gunfire was not an appropriate welcome for tourists visiting Choeung Ek.
He described it as “sad” that some tour operators would link the two as associated Cambodian experiences.
“Perhaps they miss the point [of Choeung Ek],” Youk Chhang added.
SRP Lawmaker Son Chhay questioned the legality of allowing tourists to use handguns and automatic weapons without a license.
“I believe all of these shooting ranges should be shut down,” he said, adding that such practices added to the negative image of Cambodia being a lawless “Wild West” place.