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Age rule for acid buyers debated

AUTHORITIES examining how to draft a new law that counters acid attacks are debating instituting a minimum age for people to buy the corrosive liquid, officials said Wednesday at a meeting with local vendors.

A Ministry of Interior committee met Wednesday with nine acid sellers in Phnom Penh, part of a series of meetings aimed at examining how to combat a recent spike in reported acid attacks.

“People who can buy and sell acid should not be younger than 20 years old,” said Ouk Kimlek, a secretary of state at the ministry and the committee’s deputy director.

Acid vendors could be required to demand and record identification from would-be purchasers as part of a new law, Ouk Kimlek suggested.

“The sellers should ask anyone who comes to buy acid for an identity card, their name, age and phone number, before selling to them, because it makes it easier for authorities to investigate,” he said.

Ouk Kimlek has proposed the age restriction as part of a draft law being considered. Other proposals include legislating stiff punishments – up to life in prison – for those convicted of using acid in a serious violent crime.

But the committee is also aware that regulations present logistical problems and could be difficult to enforce, Ouk Kimlek said, adding that he hoped both vendors and people who often require acid for legal purposes – the liquid is commonly used in motor vehicles, to clean jewelry and to unclog drains – will work with authorities to make any new law effective.

Some acid vendors, however, remain wary of proposed regulations.

Im Viravuth, an acid seller in Phnom Penh, who attended the meeting, said he was concerned that demanding personal details might dissuade his customers from returning.

“I am afraid that they will not come to buy again and I will lose clients in the future,” Im Viravuth said.

Phnom Penh Municipal Police Chief Touch Naruth said he was also concerned about what effects a new law might have on vendors. But he also urged citizens to work with government on the issue.

“Requiring the identity of acid buyers may not be good because it could affect the people who operate businesses,” he said. “But we would like to ask all vendors to cooperate with authorities.”

The police chief said that all forms of acid need not be regulated. Though concentrated acid can cause severe disfigurement and even death, diluted forms pose a lesser threat.

“We should find out what kind of acid can be harmful to people,” said Touch Naruth, who added that creating a law to regulate acid was the right solution.

“Acid attacks are cruel and criminal because it is not a normal liquid, but it is material that can kill and make someone become a disabled person forever,” he said. “We need to create a law to avoid it being used illegally.”

The ongoing discussions represent a policy shift for the government, which in January was against calls to regulate acid sales, saying the move would be difficult to implement.

Following a string of reported attacks last month, however, authorities announced the creation of a committee to examine the issue.

Ouk Kimlek said authorities have counted eight acid attacks so far this year.

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