The aim of writing the story of Aki Ra is to highlight the horror of the landmines which are still prevalent in Cambodia, one of the things that impacted me most during my trip to this country, besides its sad and tragic past at the hands of the Khmer Rouge regime*. I visited Aki’s landmine museum near Siem Reap and was able to learn about his (war) experiences and dreams for the future.
“I am not sure of the exact date of my birth, but I have information that I was born in 1973. I have always lived in North-West Cambodia and have spent most of my life surrounded by guns, artillery and the horror of landmines. My parents were both killed by the Khmer Rouge when I was only 5 years old. From that age on I was brought up by the Khmer Rouge and forced to work in their army. I was taught to lay mines, make simple bombs, and fire guns and rocket launches.
At the age of about 10, I had my first gun and was forced to fight for the Khmer Rouge. When I was 14, the Vietnamese occupied our village and I was conscripted into their army and went to fight against my previous army, the Khmer Rouge. One day, I was shooting across the field and suddenly saw my uncle who I was ready to shoot. I shot over his head until he ran away. Only last year I spoke to him about that day and we had a laugh. I stayed with the Vietnamese army until 1990 when they pulled their troops out of Cambodia, and went on to join the Cambodian army which was still fighting the Khmer Rouge. In 1993, the United Nations sent peacekeeping forces and I went to work for them, helping to clear the landmines that had been laid over the years by the various fighting forces. “
Between the years 1984-1990, many people were killed or injured by landmines. Still today there are many weapons left behind by the army men as during fighting they were too heavy to carry. Many children and people are still injured or killed by such weapons and landmines, many of them civilians working in the fields.
“During my days spent clearing the landmines all over the country, I would find many relics from the war, and slowly started collecting various bits and pieces which I hid in several places around the jungle. I then hit upon the idea of starting a museum, as I had found so many things. I created it gradually and finally opened it to the public in 1999. Many people in Cambodia still feel distress for the loss of their families and because of the hardships the Khmer regime created, but I feel that Cambodia should concentrate on moving forward and rebuilding the new way of life. There is no way dwelling on the past because it is sadly irreversible. We live daily with the legacy of the landmine and unexploded bombs. I hope that my museum will help to explain that for us the horror is not over. We still need help in dealing with this massive problem and I feel that the world is not fully aware of the scale of situation. It may take up to 100 years to find and clear every mine, as there are many unrecorded minefields. Hopefully, we will get enough support to speed up making this country safe for its people. That’s my dream.”
* Between the years 1975-1979, it’s estimated that over 3 million Cambodians (1/4 of the population) died at the hands of the Khmer Rouge who mercilessly tortured and killed in the many killing fields around the country .