Phnom Penh, Cambodia (The Killing Fields)
Apr 26, 2007
|April 25th - 28th, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
We arrived in Phnom Penh (PP) after a lovely bus ride through the Cambodian country side. A 5 hour ride allowed us to see the small villages and how truly poor this country is. The miles and miles of dry cracked rice fields (its dry season right now) reminds you of how hard it must have been to live thru a drought as Rice is their main source of food and income.
We came to PP primarily to visit the Toul Sleung Genocide Museum as well as the Killing fields of Choeung Ek.
Toul Sleung Prison (now a museum) was previously a high school until in 1975 when the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot's security forces turned it into the largest center of detention and torture in the country ... Security Prison 21 (S-21).
The school rooms were converted into cells and torture chambers where they used one of several methods to torment their victims (water torture, cutting a wound and putting a deadly spider or centipede into the flesh, whips, sharp objects, starvation and brutal force). The 4 original buildings are still in place and show photo after photo (as the Khmer Rouge kept meticulous records) of those people captured and housed here (a lot of them innocent women, young men, babies and children). After their forced confessions (some, hundreds of pages long as the torturing went on for months) these people were then taken to the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek where they were executed (except for the 14 people who were found dead on site just before the Vietnamese came in and took over and the remaining 7 who were found still alive).
KILLING FIELDS OF CHOEUNG EK ....between mid 1975 and December 1978 all of the prisoners of S-21 (almost 9000 people) and other surrounding prisons (an additional 8000 people) were taken here, bound and blind folded, to be executed. To save money, as bullets were expensive, Pol Pot's forces used axes and knives to murder people at the sides of mass graves. They were then rolled into the grave and buried (some had over 200 people in one grave). 129 graves in total.
During excavation in 1980, 8000 skulls were found in the 86 graves that were uncovered. A Stupa of glass was built as a memorial and now houses those skulls, bones and some clothing that was found. When we were wandering around the graves, we periodically had to step over human bones and scraps of clothing poking out of the packed dirt that was excavated from the graves.
Everyone currently living in Cambodia has someone in their family that died here. Our tuk-tuk driver, Elvis, said his father was visited one day by the Khmer Rouge at home. They came to "invite him to a meeting"... he was never seen again. We met a man at the Angkor ruins in Siem Reap ... he was a 25 year old medical student at the time and was rounded up by the KR while at school. They took all the students, teachers, doctors and professionals to a prisoner camp up north. There they were tortured, starved and "re-educated" ... he was one of the lucky few (50 or so survivors out of thousands) that survived in the camp. He was there for 2 years until the end of Pol Pot's regime. The rest were murdered or died. He's not sure why he was spared ... maybe because he was young and strong enough to go work in the fields.
The records say that approx. 1,700,000 people were murdered and a total of 3,000,000 died directly under Pol Pot's leadership.
It was the Vietnamese army that finally spared the rest of the country, when they invaded and forced the Khmer Rouge out in 1979.