Instead of returning to Phnom Penh on Tuesday morning as planned, I stayed in Siem Reap to revise the script and go de-mining with Aki Ra. The first day we went to a nearby spot (40 min drive) to see people from the Cambodian military that Aki Ra had trained to demine. After having lunch in a shady spot with hot fried chickens I carried on my lap, we toured the surrounding areas. Many spots were marked off where mines remained exposed and ready to be disarmed. Many of the men working wanted their pictures taken with us. Quite a reversal of roles to have the locals want pictures of them with the tourists. However, I assume that when you are that far out of town and in the middle of a minefield, you are no longer a tourist. Aki Ra showed us the different type of mines common in the area and how to spot them.
Lunch in the middle of a mine field.Aki Ra and his wife HourtActive mine…DO NOT TOUCHAki Ra admiring his demining workMade in the USA
We got back in the jeep and drove around to the other side of the reservoir and met a second group that Aki Ra was paying to demine. From what I was able to understand, a group of about 15 men were demining for a solid week for $100 total…about $6 per person per week.
Demining area #2
Aki Ra and Hourt
Demining day #2 started when I awoke at 5:30am to get to the museum by 6:45 for an early departure.
Land Mine Museum before departure
Something a photo cannot capture:
Imagine the back of a small SUV with the seats taken out. Then picture six people sitting cross legged each with their own large backpack. Then picture that SUV bouncing down some of the worst roads imaginable…the kind that seems smooth for about two seconds than a massive pothole apears to swallow a tire and that padded seat you made out of your mosquito net and a wool hat has flown elsewhere just in time for your body to crash unpadded to the hard plastic wheel well! Lastly picture the above for four hours nonstop.
Well that’s one way to get people excited about walking through a mine field!
Stopped at at school outside the town of Malay, Cambodia in the afternoon. Turns out that Phil had purchased the land and had it built last year while demining with Aki Ra. He was returning with his mother (a high school teacher in the UK) to show her that the school had been named after her. The one room building was about the size of a large hotel room with no furniture but was PACKED with smiling and laughing women and children. We brought the kids a snack, took many photos, and they sang us a song in Khmer. Great work Phil!
Lorna Parry School in Malay, Cambodia (Built 2006)ClassroomPhil and Aki Ra discussing sign mounting logisticsHe’s using a full sized axe to hammer in a tack!  Only in Asia! Phil with his students
We got back in the jeep and pushed on to a land mine field near the Thai border at Poipet. Within 15 minutes, Aki Ra had taught us all about the different kinds of mines and deactivated four mines in the process. The following are step by step pictures of his demining process:
After locating mine, dig out with tools availableCarefully pick it up and move it into position to remove detonator.Use pocket knife to unscrew detonatorGently tap mine until detonator falls out.Pick up deactivated mine and add to pile or put on display.
Aki Ra then repeated the above process two more times quickly then uncovered a buried anti-tank mine. Here is a video:

After adding the anti-tank mine to the site’s display, Aki Ra found a mine that was too dangerous to deactivate and decided to explode it. Aki Ra tells us of his plan and we all walk about 50 meters from the site and wait for the explosion. Not knowing what to expect, we wait in suspense. Here is a video of the explosion taken with my still camera (pardon the shaky footage):

On the way back, we visited with Am, a friend of Aki Ra. Am had lost his leg while walking on his land. Over the following years, Am’s leg was replaced with a prosthetic and subsequently exploded six more times! Seven times Am has stepped on an active land mine and lost the same leg! Video clip to come with trailer.

Much more demining to come, happy Chinese New Year!


8 responses to “Demining!

  1. Could you explain how you know where to find the mines?

  2. I do not know where to find the mines (yet, at least). Aki Ra and the people that he trains all have giant metal detectors that they probe a given landscape with. If they find something, they often simply mark it with red tape/string, and then Aki Ra deals with a whole batch of them next time he visits. Not sure if that answers your question but that’s what I’ve gained so far.

  3. Hi John:

    Might you know the range of ages of the children in the school in Malay?

    Warmest regards from Mike and Patti

  4. Hi there John. Just wanted you to know that I have really been enjoying your journal entries. What an experience you are having. It is really hard for me to imagine what it must be like being there. Your pictures are awesome as well. Please be careful!
    Don’t forget to keep in close touch with your mother. Helen

  5. John,
    Like so many places in the world I am struck with the beauty of the land and people and horror of what so recently happened there. It makes one want to search all the more fiercely for mechanisms to prevent the re-currence of this kind of horrendous crimes.
    Peter Kinoy

  6. Wow, give my best to Am. That is one of the craziest things I have ever heard. 7 times??

    Great work on filming the explosion. I would imagine anyone would be a little shaky filming exploding land mines for the first time.

  7. I am so glad that you are not exploding these things yourself! Be careful….I am so proud of you, but really be careful. I do not like to see my clumsy brother around explosive devices!

  8. Patti and Mike: The age of the children at the school in Malay range from 5-9 years old.

    Helen: Thanks for the interest, talked to my mother yesterday :}

    Peter: I completely agree, the challenge will be to see if over thirty years later, awareness will lead to prevention.

    Sean: Will do, I plan on seeing Am again in a few weeks.

    Emily: Clumsy? Thanks!

    Thanks all for your comments, really appreciate it!

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