rt2k6 - Korea to Britain the hard way

2006-05-26 05:19

Aki Ra - One Man Bomb Squad

Aki Ra doesn't know exactly when he was born - he doesn't remember anything before 1978, when the Khmer Rouge killed his parents and made him, as a kid of about five, walk through minefields in front of their military patrols. After the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia in 1979, he ended up attached to a Vietnamese army group still fighting the KR, and that's where he got the training to do what he does today - locate and disarm landmines.

He reckons he's found at least 30,000 mines, with somewhere between three and six million remaining in Cambodia. The land his house and the orphanage for landmine victims and the landmine museum he runs was itself a minefield in 1994 - he was one of the people who worked with the UN in 1994-95 to clear landmines out of Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples. Aki Ra's methods are simple, fast and dangerous. He clears mines, mortar and cluster bombs, tripwires, and mechanical traps and snares using a humble bamboo stick, sharpened, and disarms them using such complex tools as pliers and screwdrivers. He does it all voluntarily, recieving no payment - indeed, the places now most affcted by landmines are so rural and impoverished that they couldn't afford to pay even a small fraction of his costs, which run to thousands of dollars per month, mostly in fuel and vehicle rental. He runs the Landmine Museum and Gallery in Siem Reap, which attracts donations, and it seems like he is sponsored by anti-landmine campaign groups and a few foreign donors, but there's certainly no surfeit of money.

Today (in about half an hour) we're going to Anlong Veng, the last stronghold of the Khmer Rouge; the town where Pol Pot gave his final interview in 1997, where he died in 1998 and was buried. Anlong Veng and the surrounding area is one of the most heavily mined areas in the world. I promise we'll be careful.