The Killing Fields.

Trip Start Oct 02, 2005
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Trip End Sep 28, 2006


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Flag of Cambodia  ,
Saturday, September 2, 2006

On April 17th, 1975 the Khmer Rouge, a communist guerrilla group led by Pol Pot, took power in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. They forced all city dwellers into the countryside and to labour camps. During their rule, it is estimated that 2 million Cambodians died by starvation, torture or execution. Thats was about one third of the population.

The Khmer Rouge turned Cambodia to year zero. They banned all institutions, including stores, banks, hospitals, schools, religion, and the family. They killed anyone they thought was a danger to the communist way. Intellectuals, Buddhist monks, teachers, nurses, doctors, journalists, lawyers, even people that wore glasses. Everyone was forced to work 12 - 14 hours a day, every day. Children were separated from their parents to work in mobile groups or as soldiers. Most of the murders carried out were by children with guns.

The Khmer Rouge regime was removed from power in 1979 as a result of an invasion by Vietnam. It survived into the 1990s as a resistance movement operating in western Cambodia from bases in Thailand. They were funded and armed (amongst others) by the USA. In 1996, following a peace agreement, Pol Pot formally dissolved the organisation. After being responsible for the deaths of 2 million people, he died in his sleep at the age of 74. Khang Khek Leu, also known as "Duch," remains the only member of the regime currently awaiting trial. Yep, thats right. One person is awaiting trial for the genocide in Cambodia.

The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum used to be a high school. When the Khmer Rouge took over Phnom Penh they tured it into a prison called S-21. Nearly 20,000 people are known to have entered Tuol Sleng; of these only six are known to have survived. The sole purpose of S-21 was to extract confessions from prisoners before they were taken away for execution and mass burial outside of the capital near the farming village of Choeung Ek. This area is now known as 'The Killing fields'.

We visited the museum and it's horrific. When the Vietnamese liberated Phnom Penh and discovered the prison, the last people tortured and murdered there were still chained to the beds. Their throats had been cut. The beds are still there with photos of what the Vietnam soliders discovered hanging above them. They also found 6,000 black and white negatives and 20,000 pages of written documentary materials. The photographic negatives were cleaned, catalogued and printed. These photos hang in the museum. Walking past looking at them all is chilling. Especially the ones of the kids. Knowing that those faces looking back at you where tortured to death a few days later is hard to take in.

I grabbed a tuk-tuk out to the Killing Fields, Cailin stayed in the hotel. There's not much out here. A simple monument and thats about it. In this monument there are the skulls of 8985 people. Victims were shipped the fifteen kilometres out of the capital at night by truck, many still blindfolded, some were even made to dig their own graves before they were bludgeoned to death by pick-axe, hoe, iron bar, wooden club, sharpened bamboo stick or whatever else served as a weapon of death. The Khmer Rouge refused to waste precious ammunition on their victims, many of whom were their own cadre and their families. In addition to the 8,985 victims already exhumed, another 43 pits have been left undisturbed and the final shocking total is believed to be somewhere near 20,000. Incredibly, Choeung Ek is just one of thousands of recorded mass grave sites dotted throughout Cambodia and is by no means the largest.

The worst part of this day for me was the 'Killing Tree'. To save ammunition babies and small childern would be held by the ankles and beaten to death off this tree. I stood there thinking about the half dozen kids that begged me for a dollar on my way in.

It was a long ride back to the hotel.
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