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Court drops CNN hero’s illegal weapons charges

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Cambodian deminer Aki Ra stands proudly at the main entrance of his private museum decorated with the defused landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) in Khnar Sanday commune’s Khnar village in Siem Reap province’s Banteay Srei district. TANG CHHIN SOTHY/AFP

Court drops CNN hero’s illegal weapons charges

The Siem Reap provincial court has dropped the “weapon possession” charges against CNN hero Aki Ra, leaving the Cambodian Landmine Museum free to reopen on Thursday, a court official said.

Siem Reap provincial court spokesperson Yin Srang told The Post that the investigating judge on Wednesday dropped the charges against Aki Ra and two of his colleagues.

“The investigating judge decided on December 26 to lift the court verdict described in the bail decision, and allowed the landmine museum to reopen following a request from the suspects,” Srang said.

Aki Ra confirmed to The Post on Wednesday that he had received notice from the court.

“We have received a letter. We are preparing a housewarming ceremony, to open the doors and clean the rubbish after the place was closed for three months."

“[The court has] dropped the charges against me. They gave me a letter and I read it. It said [the charges] were dropped and [we are] allowed to reopen the museum. I got the letter from the judge at noon,” he said.

Aki Ra, along with executive director Hanh Sokunthea and deputy director Eoun Yun, were charged with illegal weapon possession after a fire broke out in late August at a small warehouse 150m behind the landmine museum in Siem Reap province’s Banteay Srei district.

After responding to the fire, provincial authorities found nine grenades, 15 “72A” mines, 325 bullets, six broken machine guns, two cases of anti-tank mine shells, a grenade crate and a case of detonation cord, among other items.

Aki Ra said they were war remnants being temporarily stored at the warehouse before being destroyed.

Ly Thuch, senior minister and vice-president of the Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority (CMAA) warmly welcomed the court decision.

“On behalf of the CMAA across the country, I am happy and congratulate the Siem Reap court’s decision. We are grateful for all cooperation which led to the reopening of the museum."

“At the same time, I am sorry that an incident happened. CMAA has strengthened monitoring measures to avoid such incidents in the future,” Thuch said by telephone on Wednesday.

“We highly value this cooperation and hope the museum runs smoothly from now on,” he said.

Aki Ra has extracted approximately 50,000 mines in Cambodia. In 2010, he was named a CNN top 10 hero, also receiving the 2012 Manhae Prize awarded by the Manhae Foundation in South Korea.

Correction: Siem Reap provincial court spokesperson on Thursday explained that Aki Ra charges have not been dropped and the judge is continuing the investigation. However, the museum was permitted to be open.

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