A very sobering expereince

Trip Start Jul 24, 2009
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Trip End Jun 30, 2010


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Flag of Cambodia  ,
Monday, August 24, 2009

As you can guess by the title I visited S-21 museum and the Killing fields today in Phnom Penh. Having a little trouble knowing what to write as the whole experience was a harrowing but necessary. It enabled me to understand how nearly a decade of civil war then satanical Khmer Rouge regime destroyed a country's cultural and spiritual heart. It also explains why the people have such a drive to make their country secure and successful.

A very brief history of that period was that Pol Pot's oppressive regime came on the back of  civil war and the people all believed the Khmer Rouge would bring the country back to its old self and ensure peace. As the KR stormed into the capital (1975) they order everyone out on the guise that they were clearing the city to make it safe, the reality was that they were pushing everyone into the countryside to begin an 'agrarian utopia'/oppressive communist state. The KR  believed anyone who was educated or had worked for the military was a threat to this and so the torture and killing of innocent people (babies and children included) began. Ultimately they blamed the failing of their regime on educated people infiltrating and trying to spoil what they were trying to achieve. The more paranoid the leaders got the more they killed.

S-21 is a converted school in Phnom Penh where the KR tortured people. It was divided into individual torture rooms, individual cells, group holding rooms and vicious structures like the gallows (people were lifted high into the air by their hands which were tied behind their backs). I don't think anything can prepare you for walking into a once used classroom where you are confronted by a picture of a Cambodian man dead after being tortured hanging above his actual bed with the instruments that were used on him there and his blood splattered onto the walls. There are 7 of theses cells and they were found by the rescuing Vietnamese in 1978 when S-21 was discovered. They are buried there in attempt to give these innocent victims respect.

I nearly couldn't go into the room with all the photos in as seeing hundreds of pairs of pleading eyes glaring back at you was something I found hard but knew I had to do. In some way to pay respect to what had happened to them. The victims were all photographed and their forced confession recorded. Looking through the pictures you began to understand the scale of this barbaric regime as there were photos of toddlers with numbers pinned to their shirts blankly looking at the camera. Children and babies were killed because the Khmer Rouge didn't want them to seek revenge for the deaths of their families later in life. So what do you do? Torture them or whack them against a tree to kill them of course. Pure evil.

The Killing Fields were about half an hour away and this is where they brought the victims after they had tortured them. As I walked around the mass graves I still couldn't believe what I was experiencing. I later found out that the pieces of cloth and the white bits that you sometimes saw in the earth were in fact remnants from the victims clothes and bones that hadn't been excavated. Apparently when they get heavy rain and it washes some of the earth away, more is discovered.

Learnt an awful lot today and felt lucky I grew up where I did. I hope that was clear to read as ultimately there are no words that can describe what happened that do the Cambodian people justice.
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