A high-ranking Cambodian Mine Action and Victims Assistance Authority official is attempting to have Siem Reap Provincial Court drop charges against the owner of the Cambodian Landmine Museum.
Museum owner Oeun Yeak, also known as Akira, and directors Heanh Sokunthea and Oeun Yun are on bail while facing illegal weapons charges after a fire at the museum led to an explosion in August.
Since then, police have closed the museum for lacking proper permits to store and display unexploded ordnance. Nine bombs, 15 mines, 325 bullets and other explosives were confiscated following the closure.
Ly Thuch, vice president of CMAA, said during a Cross Talk discussion with Khmer Times yesterday that his officials visited the court on Tuesday to submit a request letter.
“We have been coordinating with the provincial court and local authorities to re-open the museum. I think that the museum will begin operating again soon,” Mr Thuch said. “Akira is a hero of Cambodia. He made the country known to the world. We respect and admire his work and CMAA is obliged to guarantee that his museum operates lawfully.”
He added that he is also requesting provincial authorities to reopen the museum as soon as possible and return seventeen children currently under the care of the provincial social affairs department to the museum. The children were being cared for by Mr Yeak and were taken into state custody after his arrest.
Mr Yeak is a former Khmer Rouge child soldier who worked as a deminer and the museum’s curator. His devotion to demining and care for young victims of landmines garnered him the title CNN Hero by the cable news channel in 2010.
Yin Srang, a provincial court spokesman, yesterday said the court has not received the request letter, noting that the case is still on-going.
“The court has not decided yet, we have not officially received the letter,” Mr Srang said. “Let’s wait and see.”
Chhuoy Sopheak, a defence lawyer for the three accused, said he was pleased to hear that the charges filed against his clients could soon be dropped.
“Of course, I am happy to know that the charges could be dropped and the museum will be permitted to re-open soon,” Mr Sopheak said.
Sous Narin, a provincial researcher with rights group Adhoc, said that the group has struggled to contact Mr Yeak.
“We had requested to see him while he was in jail, but a judge did not permit us,” Mr Narin said. “After he was released [on bail], we could not find him. We feel like the case itself has irregularities that the authorities and the court tried to hide.”