It was something I wanted to do, to see a little of the real Cambodia, to feel a bit of the history surrounding the beautiful temples and the war that ravaged the country within my lifetime.
The Khmer Rouge, under the despotic rule of Pol Pot, was a communist organization which ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979, the official name was Communist Party of Cambodia, later the Party of Democratic Kampuchea.
The Khmer Rouge regime is remembered mainly for the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million people (from an estimated 1972 population of 7.1 million), through execution, starvation and forced labor. It is often said to have been one of the most violent regimes of the 20th century – on par with the regimes of Adolf Hitler and, in the views of many, Joseph Stalin. In terms of the number of people killed as a proportion of the population of the country it ruled and time in power, it was probably the most lethal regime of the 20th century
In 1981, Pol Pot dissolved the party. Pol Pot was of course, the man behind much of this.
During his time in power Pol Pot created an aggressive regime of agricultural reform, designed to create a utopian Communist society which was known for repressing intellectuals. Today the excesses of his government are widely blamed for causing the deaths of up to two million Cambodians, although estimates vary significantly. By some accounts, nearly one out of every eight Cambodians was murdered. The regime targeted Buddhist monks, Western educated intellectuals, individuals with glasses, and ethnic Laotians and Vietnamese.
I find it strange how many people here in Malaysia (virtually a neigbouring country) know so little about this regime and how devastating it was, yet even as a toddler I was aware of the happenings in Cambodia, when I was on the other side of the world.
The country is peppered with landmines because of the civil war that raged..there are still on average of 2 people A DAY dying in Cambodia due to landmines, and it’s 2006.
The plural is used, as there are a HELL of a lot of mines theres.
You are greeted with ‘Museum’ spelled out in mines.
I saw the testament of the suffering in the Land Mine museum..the story of the Land Mine museum itself is an interesting one, even moreso the guy behind it, Aki Ra.
This guy has dedicated his life to clearing mines although sadly his clearing exercise is far from complete, it is estimated that 6 million mines remain in the soil of Cambodia. These uncleared mine fields are primarily located along the Thai/Cambodian border, and it is here that Aki Ra regularly journeys to continue the work, unaided by support, external funding or the most basic of detection devices. He says it’ll be around 20-30 years more until the mines are cleared to an acceptable level.
What’s he’s taken out of the ground, he’s stock-piled here.
As a child soldier, Aki Ra lived through Cambodia’s tumultuous past. Both his parents were killed by the Khmer Rouge when he was about five years old. He was then conscripted into their army where he was taught to lay mines, fire guns and rocket launchers, and make simple bombs. Today he is taking an active part in rebuilding the country he loves. In 1999, Aki Ra established the Cambodia Land Mine Museum in Siem Reap near Angkor Wat. His dedication and sincerity enable others to more fully understand Cambodian culture, and to see first hand the resolve the Cambodian people have to address the issue of land mines. His goal in life is to make his country safe and free of land mines.
His full life story is HERE, a true hero.
He’s been in a LOT of trouble with the government over his museum. (Read More)
Several times a month, for up to 5 days at a time, he works without sophisticated detection or safety equipment, usually solo, clearing mines on the Thai/Cambodia border. Providing his own food during these expeditions by hunting, he uses nothing more than his own foot, a stick and his extensive knowledge to safely locate and then with his hands, detonate the landmines. Aki Ra clears up to 30 mines per day, an amazing feat when compared to the 2-3 per day of an official United Nation mine clearer.
Thankfully with funding from the Cambodian Landmine Museum Relief Fund, Aki Ra has gotten some updated information and equipment.
I watched him demining on a DVD, it was a harrowing experience, watching the sweat drip off him as he deftly takes the detonator out of a mine big enough to blow up most of our houses just using a twig and a knife.
After that using some very basic aparatus, he makes the mines safe..The aparatus consists of a fire, a metal pipe and some water, he uses steam to melt the explosives inside the mine.
It actually made me want to give up everything, and go there…and take out the fucking mines with my bare hands. There are just SO many, and countries are still stockpiling, China for example has something like 115 MILLION mines stockpiled.
What reinforces this fact, is the 12 young children that live in the Museum facility..all missing arms or legs. It’s hard to look at them, to see them playing knowing full well their injuries are caused by man, man made devices planted in the ground.
There are stories, photos and paintings around the place illustrating this, they aren’t for the weak-stomached.
Some of the stories you read about these very children are heartbreaking, one young boy for example was playing near his home when he found some unexploded ordinance, of course he didn’t know what it was, so he picked it up..
It blew both of his hands off.
What’s worse…his 2 brothers heard the explosion and ran to help him, they ran into a tripwire triggering another explosion and were both killed.
MINES HEAR NO CEASEFIRE…MINES NEVER GIVE UP.
We have to fight to ban mines, they are inhumane, yes war is war, war is inhumane, but mines stay around, the modern ones are made of plastic…so they don’t even degrade. They just stay there, waiting silently to blow some poor childs leg off.
Yah..being there upset me, even just writing this and remembering being there upsets me.
And yes, it effects us closer to home.
SINGAPORE STILL PRODUCES LAND MINES.
Honestly, that disgusts me. Do they plan on planting them in Malaysia if we cut off their water? What exactly do they need landmines for?
I bought 3 t-shirts (I think they were $5USD each), I didn’t haggle the price, that was sadly the best I could do.
You can find more information here:
Cambodia Day 1 – Leaving on a Jet Plane to Siem Reap
Cambodia Day 2 – Itinerary – Morning in Angkor Thom and Bayon
Cambodia Day 2 – An Afternoon at Angkor Wat & Sunset at Phnom Bahkeng
Cambodia Day 3 – Morning at Banteay Srei, Ta Som, Neak Pean and Preah Khan
Cambodia Day 3 – An Afternoon at Ta Keo, Ta Prohm and Old Market – Siem Reap
Cambodia Day 4 – A Morning at Lolei, Bakong and Preah Ko (Roluos Group)