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UXO black market shut after shell explodes

UXO black market shut after shell explodes

cmac.jpg
cmac.jpg

Not all Siem Reap UXO ends up in "Mr Akira's" Landmine Museum.

Siem Reap - Governor Chap Nhalyvuth (Fun) has enlisted the assistance of the Cambodian

Mine Action Center (CMAC) and provincial police units to stamp out the use of metal

artillery shell casings for scrap metal in iron shops throughout Siem Reap town.

The action follows an explosion at Siem Reap's Bhut Cheo Iron Shop on Nov 25 that

killed two people. "It was just stupidity," Colonel Jean Pierre Billault

of Siem Reap's CMAC detachment told the Post . "They were cutting up a live

130mm artillery shell to use the metal to repair a broken trailer."

Standing by a small crater at his store's entrance that marks the spot where his

nephew and another man were vaporized, Bhut Ong, the owner of the Bhut Cheo Iron

Shop, claimed the artillery shell that caused the explosion did not originate from

his store.

"The motortaxi driver [who died] brought the shell in himself," Ong said.

"Other iron shops work with old UXO, but we never have."

The widespread nature of the scrap unexploded ordinance [UXO] market in Siem Reap

was underscored by a joint CMAC/police confiscation of UXO material from Siem Reap

iron stores at the request of Nhalyvuth.

"Altogether we found sixty shells," Billault said. "Many were [defused],

but some were not...the problem is that many people don't know if UXO has had its

explosive removed."

According to "Mr. Akira", a Cambodian national and former deminer who operates

Siem Reap's private Land Mine Museum, the trade in old UXO to iron shops and scrap

metal dealers in Siem Reap is open and widespread.

"There's old shells and UXO all around Siem Reap, and people will pay 100 riels

per kilo for metal from UXO," Akira said. "It's common for people to sell

UXO they find to metal dealers."

Noting that land mine incident statistics indicate that UXO explosions have now surpassed

land mines in terms of deaths and injuries, Billault recommends a nationwide publicity

campaign to alert the populace to the dangers of handling UXO.

"It's important that the public is made aware of the danger posed by handling

UXO," Billault said. "UXO awareness has to be made a priority in Cambodian

schools and in television advertising."

Billault also has harsh words for Akira's "Land Mine Museum", which exhibits

large quantities of defused landmines and UXO, saying that it heightens rather than

lessens public misconceptions about the hazards of UXO.

"If children can see and handle defused munitions [at the Land Mine Museum],

one week later if they find similar ordinance in the forest they'll be tempted to

do the same thing," he said. Billault adds that during regular inspections of

Akira's museum he regularly confiscates live UXO.

Meanwhile, Billault says the problem of deaths and injuries from public mishandling

of UXO will continue.

"These iron stores may handle 2000 shells and have no accidents, but they aren't

specialists and can't differentiate between some munitions with and without explosive,"

Billault explained. "There could well be another [iron shop] explosion in two

weeks."

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