Every good traveler wants to get off the beaten path. Unfortunately, here in Cambodia, stepping too far off the path can have explosive results. A very toxic history here has left this country with an estimated two to three million landmines and unexploded cluster bombs. You don’t do too much wandering through the forest here.
Enter Aki Ra, a former child soldier who laid an untold number of landmines for the Khmer Rouge. Aki Ra (his self-chosen new Japanese name) has made it his life-mission to use his rather questionable expertise to remove these landmines one at a time. Let’s hope he has a long life because there’s a lot of work to do.
In addition to removing landmines, Aki Ra has also set up “the Landmine Museum”, located northeast of Angkor on the way to Banteay Srei, to document his work and protest the continued use of landmines in conflicts around the world. The museum displays a variety of defused landmines and shows photo exhibits of Aki Ra and others at work removing mines. Most poignantly, one exhibit tells the stories of Cambodians whose lives have been devastated by the landmine plague. (Look for the one story about a man who lost his leg in a landmine accident and then lost his prosthetic leg in a separate incident, and then a third wooden leg in yet another incident. I couldn’t decide if he was cursed or lucky.)
As if removing Cambodia’s landmines and establishing a museum weren’t enough, Aki Ra is using the proceeds from his museum to fund an orphanage for poor Cambodian children, many of whom have suffered due to the landmine problem themselves. Clearly, Aki Ra is trying to work off some bad karma. I encourage our readers to help him work it off and support his causes by visiting his museum when they visit Angkor. It’s a little museum, but it’s quite touching.
And to further the cause, I should add that there are currently 35 countries which have not signed the Mine Ban Treaty – and the US is one of them! As an American, I am disgusted that my country has not signed on to such an important and obvious agreement. (And we are in some bad company.) I was also quite disturbed by America’s contributions to the explosives plague here in Cambodia. It seems we have some seriously bad karma to work off ourselves.