Long Sam Ath says that she’s among the lucky ones. She may be physically handicapped and jobless, but she is still alive, while many armed robbery victims are killed outright.
So Long Sam Ath is begging government officials to reduce the number of people allowed to carry guns in Cambodia. “Now there’s no war. Why do people have to face the threat of weapons?” she said.
For three sometimes emotional hours Monday, Long Sam Ath, government officials and NGO representatives argued over who should be authorized to have guns in Cambodia. The forum was organized by the Working Group for Weapons Reduction.
The group fears the latest draft law on weapons control is not restrictive enough, said Heang Path of WGWR. The series of decrees, subdecrees and directives adopted since 1992 should soon be replaced by an all-encompassing law.
The draft must still be reviewed by the National Commission for Reform and Management of Weapons and Explosives at its next meeting, which has yet to be scheduled.
Participants said that the ban on gun ownership has not sufficiently reduced the number of guns nor eliminated their misuse. Even drivers in traffic accidents reach for their guns, said Yi Kosalvathanak of the human rights group Adhoc.
“Students at my school have guns and threaten other classmates,” student Tauch Sothano said.
But further restricting weapons possession will not solve the problem, said Sok Sam Oeun, director of the Cambodian Defenders Project. Unless officers responsible for controlling weapons are honest, the situation will not change, he said.
Officers at some gun checkpoints are rumored to let people keep their guns for $200, said Tauch Sothano.
Ouk Kimlek said that high officials—provincial governors, parliamentarians, directors-general in ministries—should be allowed to carry weapons for protection.
Military officers from the rank of colonel on up also should be allowed personal weapons, said Son Kim Sorn of the Ministry of National Defense.
Those distinctions were lost on Long Sam Ath, who endured two years of treatment and surgery after being shot by a robber in 1997.
“My motorbike was not even expensive, but the robber shot me like an animal,” she said. “Please make less people entitled to guns.”
Public servants in virtually all ministries collect money one way or the other, stated Ouk Kimlek, director of the Department of Police Administration at the Ministry of Interior. Even teachers collect from students, he said.