After the U.S invasion during the Vietnam War, the blood-drenched rule of Pol Pot, and the decades of civil war that followed, Cambodia is one of the most mined countries on the planet. An estimated five million mines are still to be found, many by wandering animals, farmers, and children. It is estimated that one out of every 290 Cambodians is a landmine victim. In the game of war, landmines play dirty. They are cheap to make, easy to camouflage, designed for maximum carnage and injury, and patiently hide long after the war they were deployed for is over. Built in a variety of shapes and sizes, landmines do not have a sell-by date. As Cambodia rebuilds itself in a new century, the weapons of the past continue to maim the innocent. Aki Ra’s life mission is to put an end to this, one dangerous mine at a time.
Aki’s museum has adopted about a dozen young landmine victims, missing arms and legs, but making up for it in spirit. They help out at the museum, and a village has sprung up around the museum since Aki successful cleared it of mines in the early 1990’s. Inside a small hut, hundreds of mines are on display, along with information as to how they work and where they are found. A video runs showing Aki walking through thick jungle, the cameraman literally shaking for fear of taking a wrong step. “Look at this small field,” asks the guide. “How many mines can you see?” It’s the size of a vegetable patch, and I can just make out a trip wire connected to a mortar bomb hanging from a branch. I count four mines before he begins to point them out. There are dozens - in the ground, behind leaves, attached with gut-wire above my head. Some are only designed to blow off one leg, others the entire lower torso. You wouldn’t stand a chance.
The Landmine Museum relies on visitor donations and volunteer help. Entrance is free, and English-speaking guides are available by donation. More info at www.cambodialandminemusuem.org