Landmines in Cambodia

In Siem Reap (Cambodia) there’s a landmine museum. It’s run by a man called Aki Ra who had been a boy soldier in the Khmer Rouge after both his parents had been killed by them.

One of his duties as a soldier had been to lay landmines. Today he dedicates his life to removing them. His landmine museum is also home to a number of poor children who have lost limbs as a result of landmine explosions. There is no entrance fee to the museum and it survives entirely on donations. You’ll see a gallery of children that Aki has or is looking after who have been sponsored by foreigners who have pledged to finance the university studies of one of the children. Please go and visit Aki and his extended family and donate generously to this worthy cause.

The problem of landmines is not something I’d ever contemplated. I vaguely recall Princess Diana supporting the campaign to ban land mines but this meant nothing to me until visiting Cambodia.

If you go to Cambodia you will see people who have lost their limbs. Sometimes it’s a leg, sometimes an arm. Sometimes it’s two legs and two arms. Some of the victims are middle aged who may have lost limbs during the war years, others are young children who were playing in a field when they heard that dreaded ‘click’ we’ve all seen in the movies. And it’s not just limbs, many people have been blinded by the blast of land mines.

To this day it is estimated that there may still be up to six million land mines scattered around the Cambodian countryside which cause around 35 deaths a month. Already 40,000 people have lost limbs due to land mines giving Cambodia the unenviable record of having the most amputees per capita (about one in every 275 people have lost a limb!).

As well as the direct human cost of of these mines there are many other less obvious costs such as food shortages which may result from the inability to farm large areas of rural land that has been mined. At a family level the loss of livestock due to explosions can be devastating.

As a tourist you should never find yourself in a mined area but do be aware that this is a very real and present danger!

Unfortunately, war has always been a big business. A treaty to ban land mines was signed by over 100 countries in 1997 including the UK and France who had formerly been major producers of them. However, the USA, China and Russia who are the main producers all refused to sign the treaty so their production continues to this day.

Please take a look at the website of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines to do whatever you can to encourage a global ban on land mines.

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