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Removing Khmer Rouge Cambodian Landmines Today: Aki Ra 33 Years Later

Updated on May 19, 2018
J.S.Matthew profile image

Anthropologist fascinated with Cambodian Khmer history and culture. Board member and Secretary of Cambodian American Rescue Organization.

The Killing Fields

Have you ever hear of the "Killing Fields"? This is a reference to the horrible atrocities that occurred in the small Southeast Asian country of Cambodia between 1975-1979. At least 1/3 of Cambodia's population was killed by the regime, somewhere between 1 and 3 million people!

This was a Holocaust in itself and there were no records of the deceased and therefore, no official number of the murders. The regime targeted Monasteries, Business People, and even closed Factories, Hospitals, Schools and Banks: anyone, or anything that involved intelligence or financial prosperity.

The goal of the regime was to eliminate most of the people in the small Southeast Asian country and turn it into a slave-labor agrarian society where the occupants would be forced to produce crops for the ruling minority. If you have never heard of this genocide you should watch the 1984 movie staring Sam Waterston (Law and Order) as it depicts the situation very honestly.

I first learned about this horrible chapter of history when I met my wife who was lucky enough to be given a choice to live on a refuge camp during this time. She was lucky to survive as families were often separated and people were executed at random. Anyone who was intelligent was killed especially artists, musicians and business people. The regime wanted people who were unarmed and poor to do their dirty work so they could profit. Perhaps the most well known Cambodian singer Sinn Sisamouth was killed by the regime because he was considered a threat. Perhaps it was because he had a great following and a voice that people listened to. For whatever reason, you can listen to the haunting song "Champa Battambong" which he wrote in 1962 for his wife in the YouTube video to the right. (The automated video that is playing in the background is a cover of the same song) It is very chilling to hear his voice and know his demise. It is a love song about his love for his wife and his homeland.

Land Mine Deaths Around the World: Top 4 Highest Civilian Death Toll

Number of Deaths by Land Mine (1999-2010)
Cambodia (Srok Khmer)
Woman named Mony Orn in a Temple in Cambodia
Woman named Mony Orn in a Temple in Cambodia | Source

Watch "The Killing Fields" Movie!

The Killing Fields
The Killing Fields
The Killing Fields, starring Sam Waterson, is a realistic journey into the horrific holocaust that occurred in Cambodia Srok Khmer in less than 4 years time. Many people are unaware of this atrocity because it happened in a third world country while other world issues seamed "more important" at the time. This atrocity hardly made the news. This movie is a very realistic portrayal of what it was like as the Khmer Rouge thugs and guerilla fighters who came from the jungle and destroyed a whole unarmed and peaceful country. Sam Waterson plays the part of a journalist reporting from Cambodia at the end of the Vietnam War. As he reports the conditions of the Khmer Cambodian people and the surrounding ethnic groups, the country is invaded by the Khmer Rouge Regime and almost all of the people who have a voice where killed and eliminated; artists, musicians, singers, teachers, and anyone who opposed or spoke out against the leader, Pol Pot, and the other leaders of the murderous torturers. The Killing Fields" movie is a realistic and down to earth portrayal of the horrible conditions that occurred in Cambodia during this very short period of time. This movie is very informative and all should watch it since most of this is not taught in many schools. This is a message to be learned so that history may not be repeated. Many of the offenders went unpunished and the ones that were received very light sentences. You should watch this movie to learn about a forgotten country and culture and its rich history and tribulations.

What Happens When People Survive a Landmine Explosion?

Often times people survive these horrific explosions only to be physically and socially maimed for the rest of their life. Since there is no healthcare in most regions where landmines are stalking, many people die from infections. Those that are able to seek medical help are usually left with major physical disabilities, the most often result is loss of limb.

When someone loses a limb in Cambodia, they are often ostracized and looked down on. They are made fun of and publicly humiliated and their chances of finding work are very slim. In a country that has very few ways to make a living, being the victim of a land mine explosion can be a death sentence in itself. Many of these victim survivors turn to begging and panhandling just to be able to eat and survive.

What Do You Know About Landmines Across the World?

Are You Aware of the Landmine Problem Plaguing Many Parts of the World?

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After The Killing...

It's now 2012 [2018 update], some 33 years after the Khmer Rouge Regime began. In their short 4 year killing spree, the regime planted thousands of land mines that still claim many lives each year. There are campaigns and work forces still trying to eradicate the mines and they have been very successful. There is still a lot of work to go to locate and dismantle/disarm the land mines. Cambodia has the third highest amount of land mines and yet, is one of the smallest and least populated countries in the world. Each year many people, including woman and children lose legs and lives performing simple every day activities such as looking for wood to make cooking fires or farmers working the fields. When will it end? On a personal note, my wife has personally lost a few family members due to this serious landmine problem.

The Mine Ban Treaty

The Mine Ban Treaty (MBT) was introduced in1997 and signed in Ottawa, Canada. This Act outlaws the Production, Manufacturing, Use of, Sale of, or Transportation of Landmines.

  • 157 Countries have signed the treaty.
  • 39 Countries have refused to sign.
  • China, Russia, North Korea and the United States are among the countries that won't sign the treaty.
  • The US has not produced mines since 1997
  • The US has not exported mines since 1992
  • The US has not used landmines since 1991 (anti-personnel mines)
  • The United States has a stockpile of about 10 Million landmines

Angkor Wat Temple near Siem Reap in Cambodia Srok Khmer

A small section of the Temple at Angkor Wat in Siem Reap Srok Khmer Cambodia
A small section of the Temple at Angkor Wat in Siem Reap Srok Khmer Cambodia | Source

Economical Impact of Mine-Filled Countries

Besides the human tragedy associated with the landmine crisis, there is an economic aspect to the problem. One of the reasons Cambodia is such a poor "Third World Country" is directly related to the landmine crisis. Over 60% of Cambodians are farmers. Because of the tropical weather and climate, there is only so much this little country can produce. Rice and Mangoes and other fruits are the main source for international trade in the world market. Since many farm fields and trade routes are mined, farmers are literally blowing up in their own back yards. Many farmers are just too scared (or smart enough) not to farm their lands.

On a better note, many of the deminers are volunteers but some are able to get paid through government grants. The average deminer makes anywhere from $160 to $250 per month which is a very good income in Cambodia. Most deminers don't do it for the money. They do it because they have personally been effected in one way or another by this problem and have hope and vision for the future generations of Cambodia.

Angkor Wat is one of the most desired travel destinations in the world. It is filled with huge ancient temples and is truly a beautiful place. (See pictures to the right) Cambodia is finally coming out of the depths of poverty. The economy is growing now that the mines are being removed. For example, in 1999 (which was the first "peace" year without war in Cambodia) the Gross National Income (GNI) for Cambodia was $10 billion and the Per Capita Annual Income (PCAI) of $820. In 2010, the GNI rose to $29 billion and the PCAI rose to an average of $2,040. It is easy to see the increase in economy as the mines are being removed.

The Cambodian government estimates that the entire country will be "totally" rid of the landmines in approximately 10 or more years. The average annual landmine clearing is around 23-31 square miles per year. Since 1999 when the cleanup began, more than 270 square miles have been demined. There is still approximately 250 or so square miles to go. This is a tedious and lengthy process.

Landmine Removal Efforts

  • The Cambodian Self Help Demining Team is largely funded by the US
  • Major Landmine Fields have been mapped out and are being systematically demined one at a time.
  • The Landmine Relief Fund was created by American couple Bill and Jill Morse and hosts an orphanage for victims of landmines.
  • The US has given Cambodia over $80 million towards the removal of the mines since 1993.

Sinn Sisamouth: Original Recording in 1962

What's Being Done Today to Resolve the Land Mine Problem?

Although most people avoid the jungle areas and fields that have warning signs of dangerous land mines, there are some individuals who risk their life every day trying to eradicate this problem. The government does have a group of specialists trying to locate and disarm these sneaky agents of death and dismemberment, but there are civilians working just as hard as well.

One of these civilians is Aki Ra. Aki Ra is the founder of the Cambodian Landmine Museum. When he was a young boy he was taken from his family and forced to plant many land mines in the Cambodian landscape or face death; the Khmer Rouge did not give him a choice. Ever since the regime was ousted, his life goal has been to find and dismantle landmines in the region. To date, Aki Ra has personally defused over 50,000 explosive devices! Aki Ra is a real living hero! Cambodia has become a leader in the removal of these deadly hidden killers. Land Mines are like underground snipers, waiting to pick out their kill!

  • In Bour Village, a small settlement in Battambang Province, more than 1,600 landmines have successfully been removed thanks to people like Hun Krat.
  • Aki Ra is the master at removing these landmines in Northwestern Cambodia. To date, he has disarmed over 50,000 landmines by himself. Ra does all this without the sophisticated armor that modern Western use. He simply has a mask and a stick, and digs where he suspects there is a mine.
  • Many animals such as elephants survive these explosions but die a long painful death as they are unable to walk.
  • There are pageants (such as "Miss Landmine Cambodia") held annually to educate the people to be aware of the problem in their back yard.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
A woman in a field gathering leaves for a meal. Often times Khmer Cambodian people wrap rice (bai) and other ingredients such as hot chili peppers, meat, fish, and spices in the leaves. Once cooked, it's great to dip into dipping sauces!
A woman in a field gathering leaves for a meal. Often times Khmer Cambodian people wrap rice (bai) and other ingredients such as hot chili peppers, meat, fish, and spices in the leaves. Once cooked, it's great to dip into dipping sauces!
A woman in a field gathering leaves for a meal. Often times Khmer Cambodian people wrap rice (bai) and other ingredients such as hot chili peppers, meat, fish, and spices in the leaves. Once cooked, it's great to dip into dipping sauces! | Source

Cambodian People

People of Cambodia.
People of Cambodia. | Source
Mother In-law (Mai Kamaike)
Mother In-law (Mai Kamaike) | Source
My In Mother and Father In-law.
My In Mother and Father In-law. | Source
Cambodian (Khmer) Writing from Ancient Sanskrit.
Cambodian (Khmer) Writing from Ancient Sanskrit. | Source
Cambodian Buddhist Monks
Cambodian Buddhist Monks | Source
Transportation! | Source
At the Market.
At the Market. | Source

© 2012 JS Matthew


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