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Mine museum chiefs detained

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Aki Ra is seen with a mine removal team in a photograph displayed at his Siem Reap museum. Phak Seangly

Mine museum chiefs detained

The Siem Reap provincial court on Saturday put the founder of the Cambodia Landmine Museum and its senior officials in pre-trial detention on charges of illegal possession of weapons.

This follows a fire on the premises after which authorities discovered old and rusty weapons in a small shed on the museum’s compound.

Court spokesperson Riem Chanmony told The Post on Sunday that Aki Ra, the museum’s founder, was arrested along with Hanh Sokuthea, its executive director, and Eoun Yun, the deputy director, in Banteay Srey district on August 28, a day after a fire accident at the museum’s canteen.

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 detonating cord, among others.

During questioning, Aki Ra said the weapons belonged to his late uncle, though he had never made a report of the stockpiles to the authorities.

Chanmony said the museum had been closed pending investigation.

“The court decided to shut down the museum temporarily,” he said.

The closure of the museum, which doubles as a school providing education, food and shelter for at-risk and mine-affected youth, is expected to have a major impact.

Chhun Bora, the training manager at Cambodia Self-Help Demining, an NGO founded by Aki Ra, said through the museum’s funding, 21 schools had been built in the north and northeast of Cambodia.

The schools have provided free education for at least 600 students and improved the livelihood of about 60 volunteers teaching there.

At the museum’s headquarters in Banteay Srey district’s Kna Sanday commune, 30 students had received free education, with half of them finishing high school and pursuing higher education at the university.

Bora called on the court to let the museum continue its activities.

“I don’t fully understand court proceedings, but I think the case does not involve the museum. The court should let the organisation continue its activities so that it can make money from visitors to support the living of its staffs and students,” Bora said.

Provincial police said students at the museums were being looked after by the social affairs department.

Born in 1970 and separated from his family by the Khmer Rouge at the age of five, Akira fought for the many different armies that ravaged the country for nearly 35 years. In the early 1990’s, he worked for the United Nations clearing landmines around Angkor Wat.

Aki Ra has extracted around 50,000 mines throughout his demining career, at times using bare hands without technical devices. In 2010 he was named a CNN top 10 hero. He received the Manhae Prize awarded by the Manhae Foundation in South Korea In 2012.

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