The dangers of war do not end once it is over. Bombs and mines were still left hiding on the ground of once was a warzone. In Cambodia, the Cambodian–Vietnamese War and the dictatorship of Pol Pot in the 1980s and 1990s both resulted in milllions of landmines still scattered and unseen in Cambodia, waiting for their victims. That was why Aki Ra, a former child soldier, took it upon himself and devoted his life to digging up and removing Cambodia’s landmines.

According to World Nomads, 5 million mines still remain in the country, and around 15 Cambodians fall victim to these mines each month. On the other hand, the Halo Trust reported that “Over 64,000 casualties and more than 25,000 amputees have been recorded since 1979.”

Government’s Effort

Magawa, the mine detection rat. REUTERS/Cindy Liu

The Cambodian government has been trying to clear the mines and get rid of all of them by 2025. As per VOA News, “The Cambodian government will deploy 2,000 soldiers to train as deminers after Western nations, led by the United States, bolstered efforts to rid the country of landmines and other unexploded ordnance by 2025.” Aside from deminers, they also experimented on training large African pouched rats(which are freakishly large in size) that could help detect the scent of chemicals used in explosives and point them out to their handlers. Magawa, a mine-sniffing rat, was able to sniff out over 100 landmines and other explosives in Cambodia in his five-year career before he died.

The Story of Aki Ra

Former Khmer Rouge Soldier Aki-Ra has dedicated his life to ridding his country of landmines. Rodney Evans/AusAIDCC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Aki Ra, named Eoun Yeak by birth, was an orphan in a Khmer Rouge camp, the same group that killed his parents. Khmer was the communist party of Cambodia led by Pol Pot. He was unsure when he was exactly born, but he believed it might be 1970 or 1973. A woman named Yourn took him and raised him along with several other orphaned children. As soon as he was big and strong enough to be useful for the Khmer Rouge, he became a child soldier under the communist’s military command. He was then taken to Vietnamese custody when the Vietnamese soldiers invaded Cambodia with the intention to throw out the Khmer Rouge regime. Later on, he enlisted in their new government’s Kampuchean People’s Revolutionary Armed Forces. Here, he was tasked to plant landmines along the border of Cambodia and Thailand.

He later found himself working as a deminer for the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) in 1991. While working here, he cleared as many mines as he could. Aki Ra still continued to remove the mines in his community even after leaving UNMAS in 1992. He did all this with his knife, multi-tool, stick, and determination. He did this for a couple of years until the Cambodian government asked him to cease his “uncertified” demining activities. By the time that happened, Aki Ra had already cleared around 50,000 mines.

Founding His Organizations

Cambodia Landmine
Cambodia Landmine Museum. DnrallisCC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In 2008, he got accreditation in the International School for Security and Explosives for international demining training and explosive ordnance disposal certification(having plenty of on the job training). He did it with the help of the Landmine Relief Fund and Vietnam Veterans Mine Clearing Team. After receiving his accreditation, he established the Cambodian Self Help Demining, a non-government organization that aimed to clear small villages and “low priority” areas for other international demining organizations. 

Aki Ra collected all the mine casings he had found throughout his demining journey. He then opened a museum to raise funds for the Cambodian Self Help Demining. He also founded another organization called Cambodia Landmine Museum Relief Center. Aki Ra and his late wife also adopted children maimed and amputated by these landmines. Later on, he also adopted orphaned children. In 2010, he received the CNN hero award.