Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Weapons market undented by hotel blasts

Weapons market undented by hotel blasts

Weapons market undented by hotel blasts

weapon.jpg
weapon.jpg

The Flame of Peace ceremony at Kratie on July 3.

The recent bombing of two Phnom Penh hotels and the arrest of vendors at Tuk Thla

market has again focused attention on the illicit weapons trade in Phnom Penh.

The Pochentong Boulevard market, where the bombers purchased 20 kg of TNT, conceals

a more sinister trade. Moung Khim, First Deputy of Phnom Penh Municipal Police, told

the Post that the army surplus market is well known as the major weapons black market

in Phnom Penh.

"We have already cracked down on this market but they still operate secretly.

Our crackdown on this market is ongoing," he said.

With some simple negotiating, an AK-47 assault rifle can be had for $40 plus 500

riel for each round of ammunition. Hand grenades cost between $5 and $10 each, while

estimates for a handgun range between $100 and $1000 depending on quality

Other estimates produced by the Working Group for Weapons Reduction in Cambodia (WGWR)

puts the cost of an average handgun at around $120. For the more ambitious, or completely

psychotic, a rocket launcher can be purchased for as little as $32 in Phnom Penh;

prices in the countryside are even lower.

More than 112,000 weapons have been removed from circulation since the Cambodian

government began a strategy of weapons reduction in 1998. However that is still believed

to be only between 10% and 20% of the number of weapons estimated to be in circulation

when the project began.

Of particular concern to WGWR is the fact that only half of those weapons collected

have so far been destroyed, while the rest remain stored in government warehouses.

Weapon caches also remain buried in former front-line war zones according to WGWR.

"Our ideal is to destroy them all" said Edgar Janz, Secretariat Advisor

with WGWR.

Henny J. van der Graaf, Project Manager of the EU Assistance on Curbing Small Arms

and Light Weapons in Cambodia (EU - ASAC), says that government will to eliminate

the weapons menace is strong but a more meticulous approach is needed.

"I have done this in other countries... and what struck me was how much the

government had done [to reduce small arms] without any international support,"

he said.

But storage and accounting methods have been lax, leading to allegations that many

of the weapons are simply re-sold.

"If you see how weapons are stored... they are just thrown in wooden sheds which

are fairly easy to access", said van der Graaf.

Sar Kheng, Deputy Prime Minister and Chairman of the National Commission for Weapons

Management and Reform (NCWM), led a Cambodian delegation to New York this month to

attend a UN conference on small arms control. He acknowledged in 1999 that many weapons

collected had simply found their way back into Phnom Penh's markets.

While this is still rumored to be the case, no-one can be certain.

Van der Graaf said that he has "...no evidence, but there are rumors that Cambodian

arms are sold to Sri Lanka and other countries in the region."

Cambodian arms are also said to have found their way to a number of regional hotspots

including Indonesia's Aceh and Mindanao in the Philippines.

But it is the domestic use of weapons that most concerns the EU and local weapons

control NGOs.

"Particularly in light of the elections next year [commune elections in Feb,

2002] it's potentially very dangerous. If you take 200 weapons [from a weapons store]

then no-one will know. If a military commander wants to use their authority to sell

weapons illegally to arms dealers then no-one can control it," said van der

Graaf.

To combat this potential threat, the EU project is helping to establish proper warehousing

and registration procedures for both confiscated weapons and weapons held by the

military and the police.

Weapons are presently regulated by a one-page law drafted during Untac times and

a sub-decree issued in 1999. NGOs and the EU-ASAC are anxiously awaiting the passing

of the new draft law that has been with the NCWM for the past three months.

According to van der Graaf the law will allow the government to "...regulate

the use of arms in the military and the police, because at the moment a soldier can

take his weapon home. Under the new law that will be forbidden... now it sometimes

happens that a weapon is handed to a criminal who uses it then it goes back in the

store," he said.

Janz said better regulation should follow the new weapons law, "but then

there is the question of political will and follow-through."

While the MoI has been active in promoting weapons reduction, van der Graaf says

EU-ASAC had to overcome resistance from the Ministry of Defense to destroy weapons

viewed as a possible resource.

The MoI and EU-ASAC have been organizing a series of "flames of peace"

ceremonies around the country to eat into the large cache of confiscated weapons.

"It's cheap and it has a psychological impact" said van der Graaf of the

weapons burning ceremonies.

While conceding that between 20% and 40% of those weapons that end up on the public

pyres are old and unserviceable, van der Graaf points out that it's still vital to

destroy them. To prove it, his office displays a unique wall hanging composed of

homemade weapons pieced together from the parts of broken firearms.

In his July 9 speech to the small arms conference held at the UN headquarters in

New York, WGWR's Path Heang said that confiscating weapons was not enough if they

are not also removed "from people's minds".

A new study commissioned by WGWR points out that women and children are regularly

subjected to weapons abuse by neighbors and relatives.

The survey, conducted in Banteay Meanchey and Kompong Chhnang provinces, found that

the consequences for women and children included displacement and impoverishment

for women fleeing threats of violence from within their own families and villages.

Addressing the UN conference on small arms, Heang said that the study also found

a direct link between weapons availability and "...the economic, health, social,

psychosocial, and political situation of women and children".

"The main issue is fundamentally a lack of trust in Cambodian society, both

between each other, and between civilians and the police and security forces,"

said Janz.

EU-ASAC's van der Graaf agrees. "We've found that people are fed up with war,

and they want to get rid of weapons, but they're always asking us one question: 'Who's

guaranteeing our security, because we never see the police around here'."

He adds that weapons will always circulate, but it is important to achieve an increased

sense of security.

MOST VIEWED

  • Cambodia unveils new quarantine regulations

    The government has modified Covid-19 quarantine requirements, shortening the duration for, among others, Cambodian officials, foreign diplomats and delegations, investors and inbound travellers in general. According to an official notice signed by Minister of Health Mam Bun Heng late on October 16, quarantine length for Cambodian

  • Cambodia sets new Covid-19 quarantine rules

    The government has modified Covid-19 quarantine requirements, shortening the duration for, among others, Cambodian officials, foreign diplomats and delegations, investors and inbound travellers in general. According to an official notice signed by Minister of Health Mam Bun Heng late on October 16, quarantine length for Cambodian

  • Hun Sen: Cambodia set to fully reopen

    Prime Minister Hun Sen concludes that the October 5-7 Pchum Ben public holiday, during which many people either flocked to their hometowns for family reunion or gathered at tourist attractions across the country, has not caused an outbreak of Covid-19. In a special address to

  • Will Evergrande change the way Chinese developers do business in Cambodia?

    China’s property sector policy has exposed the grim financial condition of real estate developers including those operating in Cambodia, which raises questions over the viability of their projects and business going forward The dark blue netting draping over one of Yuetai Group Co Ltd’

  • Cambodia voted ‘world’s friendliest country’ in Rough Guides reader poll

    Cambodia ranked number one among the “World’s Friendliest Countries”, according to a reader poll conducted by London-based international website “Rough Guides”. Taking submissions through Twitter and Facebook, “Rough Guides”, a well-known travel agency and publisher of guidebooks, said the Kingdom “was by far the

  • S’ville set to turn into ‘second Shenzhen’

    The Ministry of Economy and Finance has awarded a master plan consultancy contract to top Chinese institute for the development and transformation of Preah Sihanouk province into a “Model Multi-Purpose Special Economic Zone”, Southeast Asia’s next logistics and resort hub and innovation centre. The