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Guns on Parade

Guns on Parade

Phnom Penh's major buildings are getting the once over for the big parade on Nov

9 marking Cambodia's 40th year of independence from French rule.

The military museum on Street 172 and Norodom Boulevard is presenting its arms as

if the procession proposed to march through its doors.

A few alterations are planned for the 14 year old collection of military memorabelia.

The Angkor emblem, for example, on some of the weaponry has to be changed from the

previous five towers to the current three, in keeping with the new national flag.

The unusual, off-purple, masonry stands at attention in the sun. Off purple was chosen,

incidentally, because its shade was the nearest they could find to the stones at

Angkor Wat.

It is not obvious that the grounds are open or, that it is even a museum. No bright

signs designed to lure tourists adorn the entrance.

After parting with a $1 admission fee, a female guide briskly opens the dusky downstairs

rooms so you can inspect their contents. The reception area has a miniature model

of the Independence Monument symbolizing a recurring theme of independence in many

displays.

There are also some large paintings. One depicts a lone soldier preparing to fire

his shoulder-held rocket launcher. Interestingly, its artist, Ou Hong, is the museum's

chairman.

The rooms look more like depleted arsenals, with an assortment of canons, guns, rocket

launchers and shells from the 16th century through the resistance movement against

the French colonists to guns captured by and recaptured from the Khmer Rouge.

Particular features of interest are the photographs which largely tell the struggles

of the armies of numerous regimes in foreign and domestic conflicts. Two photographs

to note are of Tou Samouth and Achar Mean, two former monks who joined the Indo-China

Communist Party during World War II and played major parts in both the pre- and post-Independence

resistance movement.

Surprisingly, there is little text with the exhibits to interest the visitor. However,

one can have the dubious pleasure of handling the many guns and pieces lying about

the premises and imagining how a display case piled with skulls were once people.

Torture implements, formerly, used by the Khmer Rouge, whose doctrines resulted in

farcical "confessions" from its victims, are pinned to a wall.

Outside in the grounds, the apparent abandonment of several tanks makes it seem natural

to climb inside but, watch out, as one rusty tank captured by government troops in

1991 until recently contained the skeletal remains of a Khmer Rouge soldier.

Big guns, a MiG jet, and a wooden river gunboat take up the rest of the grounds.

Most of the hardware is of Chinese origin, but there are Russian and American examples,

as well.

The military museum could easily leave visitors associating Cambodia only with death

but, because it tries to show the country's march of progress, it puts one at ease.

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