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Posts tagged "National Geographic"

An unexploded World War II bomb discovered this week is the tip of the iceberg.image

Russian soldiers flying a flag made from table cloths over the ruins of the Reichstag in Berlin after storming the city. Unexploded bombs from sieges like this one still litter the German landscape. Photograph by Yevgeny Khaldei, Getty Images.

Berlin traffic ground to a halt on Wednesday after a bomb was discovered 20 feet from a train track near the city’s main station. Hundreds of people were evacuated from nearby hotels and apartments, schools in the area shut down as students were moved to safety, and planes were put in a holding pattern over the German capital for half an hour as a bomb squad gingerly defused the explosive device.

This was no terror incident, though. The 200-pound (91-kilo), 3-foot-long (1-meter-long) bomb was nearly 70 years old, dropped by a Soviet plane during the Second World War. Once its detonator was carefully removed, the TNT-packed iron tube was strapped to the bed of a truck and moved to a forest outside the city, where it could be safely detonated.

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Landmine victim. Photograph by Lynn Johnson.

By Mark Jenkins

Delicately brushing away the soil with his fingers, Aki Ra uncovers a dark green land mine buried two inches beneath the overgrown dirt road. The size of a large soup can, the mine was planted by the Khmer Rouge about 15 years ago on this ox track in northwestern Cambodia—the most densely mined region of one of the most heavily mined countries in the world.

"This is the type 69 Bouncing Betty made in China," says Aki Ra, his breath fogging the blastproof visor of his helmet. Bouncing Betty is the American nickname for a bounding fragmentation land mine. The pressure of a footstep causes it to leap out of the ground and then explode, spraying shrapnel in every direction. It can shred the legs of an entire squad.

Soft-spoken and cherubic, Aki Ra knows the inner workings of the Bouncing Betty and just about every other variety of mine. In the mid-1970s, when he was five, the Khmer Rouge separated him from his parents and took him into the jungle with other orphans. At that time, Pol Pot, commander of the Khmer Rouge, had plunged the country into chaos, closing schools, hospitals, factories, banks, and monasteries; executing teachers and businessmen; and forcing millions of city dwellers into a gulag of labor camps and farms. The small hands of children like Aki Ra were invaluable tools. He was trained to lay land mines, defuse and deconstruct enemy mines, and reuse the TNT for what are now called improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

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