Aki Ra doesn't know exactly when he was born, but he was conscripted into the Khmer Rouge army at around the age of five. By age 10, he was carrying a rifle. By his early teens, he was laying more than a 100 landmines a day. Along with many other orphan boy soldiers, he would trek through the jungles of northern Cambodia creating a trail of death. 'We took out the pin, put the landmine into the ground and moved on to the next one. You had to be careful to remember where you put them and not go over the same ground,' said Aki Ra, who reckons he would lay anywhere between 100 and 1,000 landmines a day. 'Many of my friends died when laying the mines.' If a friend died, Aki Ra was given little time to grieve was but told by the Khmer Rouge overseers that there were plenty of other boys he could be friends with. Aki Ra has known the pain of continued warfare and killing. After being conscripted to fight for the Khmer Rouge, he was forced to fight for the Vietnamese in 1983 after they invaded Cambodia. He later would fight for the Cambodian army in a protracted civil war before receiving demining training from the United Nations in 1992. These days his ambition is to help clear Cambodia of the five million landmines that still lurk on its farmland regularly killing or maiming villagers. 'I want to make my country safe,' said Aki Ra, who was in Hong Kong last week for a photographic exhibition and a series of talks on his work. Aki Ra estimates he has cleared 50,000 landmines over the past 15 years. He particularly concentrates on small 'low priority' villages. After deactivating the landmine and removing the TNT, Aki Ra would take the mine casing back to his home in Siem Reap. Gradually the thousands of shells became the Cambodia Landmine Museum, which now not only houses the shells but also provides visitors with information and films about Cambodia's tumultuous recent history. As well as the museum, Aki Ra, a father of three, houses 25 youngsters, many of them maimed by landmines and left with missing limbs. Often from very poor backgrounds, the children receive catch-up education at the school before being sent to other local schools. It was those children whom Canadian photographer Tony Hauser discovered playing soccer outside the museum. He went back months later in 2006 and took portrait photographs of all of them, which were on display last week at the Canadian International School. Hauser had been in Cambodia taking photographs for a project on HIV and Aids in 2005 for a conference in Toronto. 'At the end I was staying for four days in Siem Reap, just to take pretty pictures basically. I met a young couple from Holland, and they said I should visit the landmine museum. So a few hours before the flight, I took a tuk-tuk to the museum. I didn't even take my camera,' Hauser said. 'It was a humble spot of a few houses, a simple place with thousands of dismantled landmines nailed on walls and in dugout canoes. But I was less fascinated by the museum than by the young children who were playing football outside. They were running on crutches and the goalie had no hands. And it took me a while to work out what was going on.' A young man named Hak came up to Hauser and explained that they were all farm children who had been helped by Aki Ra. Hauser asked Hak, who was 16 or 17 at the time, what he wanted to do with his life. 'And he said: 'First I want to take care of myself, then my family, then my country.' I've never heard a Canadian child say that. I promised Hak I'd come back. And I came back within a year, in 2006.' The portraits are about two metres tall. Hauser wanted to show how Cambodia's citizens continue to suffer in the wake of war, but he did not want the children seen as victims to be pitied. With a white backdrop, he photographed the children in a way that would make them stand with dignity. Aki Ra visited Hong Kong with Hauser after a Canadian resident in Hong Kong, Jackie Russell, organised the exhibition, which was sponsored by the Canadian government. Canada has a keen interest in demining and orchestrated the Ottawa Treaty of 1997 banning anti-personnel mines. Thirty-seven states, including China, India, Russia and the United States, are not party to the convention. 'Most of the landmines in Cambodia are Chinese, some are Russian and some come from other countries,' Aki Ra said. Canadians also funded Aki Ra's museum, changing it from a series of shacks to a proper building and set up the Cambodian Landmine Relief Fund. Aki Ra was also helped by Vietnam war veterans in Australia involved in demining in Cambodia. Since last year, he has had a new NGO, Cambodia Self-Help Demining, a formal set-up approved by the Cambodian government, which along with other organisations in the demining community had earlier been less than happy with Aki Ra's demining guerilla tactics. 'In the demining community, people know who he is. And they either are very impressed by what he is doing or they don't like him at all. He began clearing mines with flip-flops, T-shirt, shorts and a stick,' said Bill Morse, a retired businessman from California, who was so impressed when he met Aki Ra through a friend in 2003 that he and his wife have now committed to living in Siem Reap for two years to help his work. 'He would dismantle them by hand, take out the TNT, blow up the detonator and take the shell casings back home. Eventually it became a small landmine museum. 'He had done what is known as guerilla demining and wasn't certified by the government, couldn't get certified. He would go into a village, clear what he could and get out. But now he has been certified by the government and done training in the UK, which qualifies him as an instructor.' Aki Ra would charge tourists a US dollar to enter the museum to fund his work. Children began to come to him, amputees, whose brothers and sisters had often been blown up by landmines. Chet was a boy Aki Ra came across begging on a street in Siem Reap. 'I gave him some money. Then I met him again and he asked me if he could shine my shoes. So I gave him my shoes and he ran off with them. I found him and we became friends, and I asked him if he wanted to come and live at the museum.' Now aged 20, Chet works alongside Aki Ra in a team of deminers. Volunteers are welcome at the museum to help teach English among other tasks, but for obvious reasons are not allowed to help on the demining team. Aki Ra's earliest memories are living on a communal farm with 100 other children. His parents were killed by the Khmer Rouge. 'I know the man who killed my father. He lives in Cambodia. But I do not wish to kill him. If I kill him, then his son must kill me. Then my son must kill his son. And so it goes on. We have had enough war.' Morse said of Aki Ra: 'In his early life, he knew nothing but war. He had never seen a city, or an plane. 'He has led a horrific life. He has laid a lot of landmines, he has been in a lot of battles. He had to do some very bad things under the Khmer Rouge. But he has now dedicated his life to clearing landmines.' In all the years of conflict and later demining, Aki Ra has never been injured. 'Yes, I am a Buddhist, but it isn't that. I believe in myself,' he said. Aki Ra's name is based on the Japanese firm Akira. In 1992, when he was being trained to demine by the UN, his trainers were Japanese. 'There's an appliance company in Japan called Akira,' Morse explained, 'and they make good, heavy-duty appliances - and he was working one day and they said he works just like an Akira. He liked the name, so he kept it. He doesn't know what his original name was.' Aki Ra has travelled to many countries to draw attention to the landmine issue in his native land. He now speaks five languages. But while those who came to his talks might donate the cash that keeps his work going, Aki Ra will be happy to return to Siem Reap. 'I'm very happy in the jungle demining. That's where I spent so much time in the army. I like being there and sleeping in a hammock.' For more information on Aki Ra's work, contact Jackie Russell at email@example.com .