The past horrors of Phnom Penh

Trip Start Aug 09, 2010
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Trip End Feb 01, 2012


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Flag of Cambodia  ,
Friday, January 28, 2011

Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital is busy, noisy, and quite typical of any South East Asian capital. It’s set by the river and has a huge, gorgeous promenade lined with restaurants. 


 Our main reason for our two day visit here was to learn more about what happened during the Khmer Rouge rule when they took Phnom Penh in 17 April 1975 and proclaimed it to be year Zero. Their aim was to create a nation of farmers, untainted by anything that had come before. 
 
The story is horrific. 
 
Our first visit was to Tuol Sleng Museum or S-21 prison. A building that was originally a school but was taken over by the Khmer Rouge in 1975 and used as the main prison that held over 17000 detainees. Class rooms were divided into cells or turned into torture chambers.
 
Although we had gone there on our own we ended up following a tour guide who was passionate and articulate and invaluable in helping us understand what really went on in the three years, eight months and twenty days that the Khmer Rouge ruled over Cambodia. 
 
On the 17th of April 1975, Polpot and his regime told the citizens of Phnom Penh that the Americans were about to attack and they needed to evacuate the city. Three hours walk and a few days in the countryside was what they were told would be required to guarantee their safety. 
 
Instead the citizens walked for two weeks with very little sustenance or rest, irrespective of whether they were old, sick or infirm. They did not return to the city, they were kept in the countryside as slaves working the land. They worked for 15 hours every day and were fed two bowls of watery rice porridge and nothing more. Their guards were generally children who had been so brainwashed that they found it easy to shoot people for any little misdemeanor, such as catching a lizard to eat for protein. 
 
The prisoners in S-21 suffered an even worse fate. Babies were taken from their mothers and dropped from the highest floor of the building. Women were raped and tortured. Men were hung upside down and whipped only to be submerged in huge urns full of animal excrement when they lost consciousness in order to revive them.

 
Our guide pointed out pictures of the prisoners. The fear in their eyes brought tears to mine. A few seemed more confident, they truly believed that because they had done nothing wrong they would be set free. Unfortunately Pol Pot’s motto was that ‘it is better to kill a 100 innocent men than to leave 1 infidel alive by mistake’. He showed us how to distinguish which year the prisoners were taken in by the number that hung from their neck. In 1975 it was just a number hung by a piece of string, this changed to a number followed by a date. The date was not their date of entry but rather the day on which the prisoner would be killed. Later yet they even made do of string and stuck the number straight on the prisoners’ necks with a pin. The balconies of the building were all covered with netting and barbed wire to stop people jumping off and killing themselves. Death for these people was a welcome occurrence that would provide relief from the horrific nightmare they were living in. 
 
It’s sickening to think how anyone could do this to their fellow human beings, people from their own country. What is even more sickening though is the fact that the instigator of these atrocities, Kang Kek Lew (also known as Duch) is currently living in a very comfortable air-conditioned prison cell with cable TV enjoying a standard of living far higher than most Cambodians. How can these things be allowed to happen? Where is the justice in that?! 

If you want an idea of what went on during the Khmer Rouge regime you should watch the film "The Killing Fields". It only gives you a snapshot but it is an incredible true story about two journalists who were in Cambodia at the time. 

After visiting the prison we went to one of the actual Killing Fields which is just outside Phnom Penh. This is where the prisoners of S21 would be brought to be killed and buried. To save bullets the Khmer Rouge would bludgeon the prisoners instead of shooting them. At the actual site there are thousands of skulls and bone parts and ragged clothes that were dug up after the fall of the Khmer Rouge. To say it is an emotional place to visit is an understatement. There is a tree that the Khmer Rouge would smash babies against and then causally throw the bodies into a mass grave. How can the world let this happen? Animals would never commit such cruelty and they are meant to be the inferior species. Talking of so called intelligence, the perpetrators of these crimes were all well educated at universities across the globe it's not like they were ignorant to what they were doing. At the end of the film "The Killing Fields" there is a famous Beatles song which goes like this:


Imagine there's no heaven,
it's easy if you try,
no hell below us,
above us only sky.
Imagine all the people,
living for today.
Imagine there's no countries,
it isn't hard to do,
nothing to kill or die for,
and no religion too.
Imagine all the people,
living life in peace yu-huh.
You may say I'm a dreamer
but I'm not the only one
I hope some day you'll join us,
and the world will be as one.
Imagine no possessions,
I wonder if you can,
no need for greed or hunger,
a brotherhood of man.
Imagine all the people,
sharing all the world,
You may say I'm a dreamer ..

Until we can at least try to live like the above song I fear that atrocities like what the Khmer Rouge did will keep going on (we only have to see what's going on in Libya right now). 

I know that this was a heavy blog to read but we want people out there to know what the Cambodian people went through. Rough estimates are that up to 1.5 million people were killed. That's a fifth of the population. So when people moan about the beggars in Phnom Penh and elsewhere, just take a minute to think what happened in Cambodia less than 35 years ago and then give that guy a dollar!

Our next stop on our whistle stop tour of Cambodia was on the coast in a place called Sihanoukville. See you on the beach!

All our love, Karen & Paul xxx 
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Comments

mom on

So very sad bought tears to my eyes .xx

auntyp on

WoW!!! how terrible, and it happened not too long ago too.....My God what a sick world we live in!!!!!....It makes me feel ashamed to be called a human Being, animals show more humanity then us...ALWAYS!!!!
Teriible really terrible :((

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