Most young Cambodians have never seen a cluster bomb. Few know how landmines are buried, or what experts have to do to defuse an explosive.
Siem Reap’s new Peace Museum, which opened to the public last week, is intended to address that issue by educating the next generation about the country’s war-torn past.
Funded by the government and Japanese donations, the Cambodian Mine Action Centre’s Peace Museum is on a nine-hectare plot in Prasat Bakong district, about 20 kilometres from Siem Reap city.
In a 3,000-square metre exhibition room, visitors can get up close and personal with all kinds of mines, unexploded ordnances and war weapons.
The equipment used to carry out perilous demining missions is also on display, including body armour and heavy machinery such as excavators.
A memorial to demining dogs pays tribute to how canines have supported efforts to clear UXOs from the country over the years.
CMAC director-general Heng Ratana said the museum aimed to educate the public about the legacy of war, given about 70,000 people in the country were the victims of landmines.
“We hope the Peace Museum will teach local and international guests to understand the reality of landmines and remnants of war in Cambodia, especially the suffering, difficulty, misery and crisis caused by war,” Mr Ratana said.
During the inauguration of the museum last week, Japan donated mine clearance technical equipment, including nine demining machines, 88 vehicles, 450 sets of personal protective equipment and 788 UXO detectors.
The Japanese government also provided $12 million for displays in the museum.
Sim Thy, 59, is a former soldier whose right leg was blown off by a mine during a battle between the last of the Khmer Rouge in 1997 on the Thai border in Oddar Meanchey province.
“I stepped on an anti-personnel mine that had been buried underground by Khmer Rouge soldiers,” Mr Thy said. “My leg was blown off and it was very painful.”
“We Cambodians must stand in solidarity together and maintain peace for the nation,” he added, saying that young people should visit the museum to learn what his generation had been through and prevent a repeat of such events.
Defence Minister General Tea Banh said the government had been trying to clear the country of mines and UXOs for 25 years, but remnants of war remained on farms and in villages where battles were once fought.
Gen Banh said that mines and UXOs not only threaten the safety of the people, but were the biggest hindrance to infrastructure development and agricultural land use.
The number of casualties from landmines last year dropped by a quarter compared with the year before, the first time the number of deaths or injuries has been fewer than 100.
However, Gen Banh said that while the figures were decreasing, casualties were still high compared with other mine-affected countries.
“There is still a threat to people working on agricultural land. There are also still mines on overgrown parts of land where battles took place,” he said.
Since 2000, the Japanese government has provided more than $50 million for demining in the kingdom.
Mines and UXOs remain a leading cause of casualties and deaths, with an estimated four to six million land mines and other munitions left from decades of war and internal conflict continuing to contaminate Cambodia.
From 1963 to 1973, the US dropped about 500,000 tonnes of explosives on Cambodian soil.