Sunday, April 12, 2009

Public Service Announcement

The Angkor complex reminded me somewhat of a state park. You drive along a nice road through the woods stopping every now and again to see a temple, get a snack, or whatnot. The thing is that while state park guidebooks may advise you to stay on the trails because (a) they want to preserve the ecosystem or (b) they don't want visitors to get lost, the Angkor guides advise staying on the trails because they don't want tourists stepping on land mines, and the land around here is very much still mined. We took a break in between temples to visit the Cambodia Landmine Museum, a truly sobering place. Other than a couple of shots that I took of signs (written Cambodian looks, to put it bluntly, beautiful), this is the only photo I took there. That's just a small fraction of the mines and unexploded ordinance (UXO) that have been removed from the fields and roads around here.

The museum was started by Aki Ra, a former Khmer Rouge child soldier who first helped plant mines and booby traps. After leaving the Khmer Rouge, he trained as a deminer under the auspices of the United Nations. He eventually started the Landmine Museum as a way to publicize the dangers mines continued to pose to the Cambodian people. The museum also administers a fund to help pay for demining efforts, chartered as an official Nongovernmental Organization by the Canadian government.

I left the museum feeling somewhat embarrassed, possibly even ashamed, to be an American since the U.S. is one of 37 countries that have yet to ratify the Ottawa Treaty, formally the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction. In this regard we are among such countries as Russia, India, China, and North Korea. The official U.S. position is that landmines are vital in protecting the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. Were the U.S. to ratify the Ottawa treaty, it would be required to remove all the mines it has planted there within a defined period of time. The mines may well play a vital role in protecting South Korea, but the cynic in me has to wonder if the U.S. may not want to sign because it may not have the locations of all those mines neatly filed away somewhere. South Korea might have much in common with Cambodia one day.

1 comment:

VA said...

Please take note, the biggies: Russia, India, China, and the USA are among the 37 non-signatories to the Ottowa Treaty! The USA because of the use of landmines between N and S Korea; India because of the use between India and Pakistan - especially regarding Kashmir! Ain't fear and hatred wonderful?