On our way back from Banteay Srei, we stopped at the new Cambodia Landmine Museum, founded by Aki Ra, a former Khmer Rouge conscripted child soldier. The previous museum was in Siem Reap town, which afforded access to many more visitors, but they were forced to move and the trek is now 1 hour out from the center.
The Cambodia Landmine Museum Relief Center cares for almost 30 young children, including many victims of landmine explosions, some orphans, and some children who’s parents are just incapable of raising them. They are fed, housed, and sent to school.
At the age of 10, Aki Ra was conscripted by the Khmer Rouge and later captured by the Vietnamese. For years he laid down these same landmines and UXOs (unexploded ordnance) he fights to clear today. The museum was well set-up with informational panels in Khmer, English and French on the history behind UXOs in Cambodia in particular, but also in other areas of the world. One room housed photos and stories behind victims of landmine tragedies. Part of the museum was outside and showcased inactive UXOs as they would have been placed in nature.
In 2010, he was named a CNN Hero. To learn more about his story and watch video, click here: aki.ra.html
It was chilling to read the stories and learn more about the ongoing legacies of war. Although Cambodia is likely the most bombed country in history, it’s not just Cambodia, it’s Laos, it’s Rwanda, Iraq…
One source from earlier this year claimed that a landmine accident occurs every 22 minute – claiming over 500 victims a week. It affects field workers, kids playing on fields, deminers; in these countries where most of the population lives in poverty, civilians even seek out mines for the money they can obtain from the scrap metal.
A recent article in the NY Times highlighted COPE, an organization focused on prosthetic limbs and rehab for mine victims in Laos: Between 1964 and 1973, during the Vietnam War days, the US bombed Laos continuously, despite Laos being a neutral country and no openly declared war with Laos. The Ho Chi Minh trail ran through southern Laos, which was the initial target, but the spread of communism, too great for America, lent to over 260 million UXOs dropped by the US in those 9 years, of which 30% remain unexploded.
There are innumerable causes to take up in this day and age, and whether you or I become militant de-mining activists, let’s keep this information in mind and help spread the word.