This museum is dedicated to the efforts of one man to clear Cambodia’s soils of the most vicious remnants of war. It’s also a record of global efforts to reduce and abolish the use of landmines, a weapon that has a disproportionate impact on civilian populations.
When a child was given the means to sew death and destruction, it became the duty of the man to wipe clean the slate of his own conscience, by ridding his country’s soil of the landmines left behind by more than two decades of conflict. Aki Ra was just 10 years old when the Khmer Rouge took him in hand and taught him how to lay landmines. A few years later, the Vietnamese put him to work too. Thanks to them, and the Cambodian government, Cambodia’s border with Thailand is, in places, one of the deadliest in the world.
As a result, more than 40,000 Cambodian citizens have lost limbs to landmines and, while the casualty rates are declining, in 2012 it was estimated that there are still anywhere between 4 and 6 million pieces of unexploded ordinance — landmines and other unexploded remnants of war — left in the ground here.
Aki Ra’s story is told at The Landmine Museum through a series of exhibits, including all of the landmines that he and his team at Cambodian Self-Help Demining (CSHD) have pulled out of the ground. It also focuses on the consequences of landmines, and while this all might sound very depressing and mawkish, it’s actually a fascinating representation of the struggles that continue to bedevil rural communities in Cambodia today.
In 1992, after a year spent demining with the UN, a young Aki Ra originally set out on his own with little more than a stick and a pliers to root out and defuse what landmines he could find. He had already succeeded in neutralising 50,000 landmines when, under pressure from the government, he formally trained and qualified as a deminer in the UK. According to one person who knows him well, the young maverick was apparently giving his instructors lessons on how to handle the lethal weapons.
The Museum is associated with CSHD, and also with a school that takes in children who have been victims of landmines, and the derisory $5 entry fee helps to support those undertakings. It is beyond a worthwhile enterprise, and a tour here with American Bill Morse is always illuminating and engaging.
Depending on the time you have available, a trip to the museum could be incorporated into an itinerary that takes in Banteay Srei, Phnom Kulen, Kbal Spean and the Angkor Centre for Conservation of Biodiversity, and even the Angkor Butterfly Centre that is not far away. You don’t need a temple pass to get to the museum. Guided tours are held every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday at 09:00 and 15:00, in English and Japanese.
By Nicky Sullivan
Last updated on 16th February, 2016.