We went to see a mine museum that was set up by a minesweeper who still clears mines. He used to be a minelayer and work for the army but then the war was over and so he became a minesweeper and cleared mines.
His name is Aki Ra and he was forced to fight for the Khmer Rouge when he was just a child. He was given his first gun when he was ten years old. The Khmer Rouge killed his parents when he was only five. After the Khmer Rouge were put of out government in 1979 he kept fighting for them but in 1987 he switched sides to the Vietnamese army. He had to hunt for food at night because he was still one of the youngest and he would sometimes meet his old friends from the Khmer Rouge side. He would play with them at night and then the next day they would have to try and kill each other. Once he saw his uncle and he didn’t want to shoot his uncle even though his uncle was shooting at him (his uncle didn’t recognize him), so he just shot over his uncle’s head until his uncle ran away.
Aki Ra was really good at laying mines and he laid thousands of them, but he did not understand how devastating they were for people. After the Vietnamese left Cambodia in 1989 he stayed fighting for the Cambodian National Army. When the United Nations came he trained to become a de-miner and learned how to clear all kinds of mines and unexploded bombs. He thinks that he has cleared over 50,000 mines or UXO’s (unexploded ordinances), some of which are on display in the museum.
Outside the museum there are a whole bunch of missiles: some are really big and some are tiny. There were also machine guns and bullets. There were also lots of stories about kids who had accidentally stepped on mines and got their legs or arms blown off, or been blinded. Some of these children now live in a relief center that Aki Ra founded next to the museum. The children are given clothes and food and a home, and they attend the public school. The Relief Center is funded by the museum and donations.
There are 4-6 million suspected mines still buried in Cambodia, waiting to explode. Almost every day someone still gets badly injured or killed by one. It will take years and years before they can all be cleared.