AnneMarie and Andrew

Annemarie and Andrew – Trekking Asia

Phnom Penh: The Killing Fields

Posted on Dec 21, 2013

Today was a tough day. We were up early to meet our Tuk-tuk driver for the day. We had arranged for a half day visit to a few of the ‘must do’ sites in Phnom Penh. Our first destination was Choeung Ek. It is now a memorial ground but between 1975 – 1979 it was an execution site for the Khmer Rouge, it is one of the Killing Fields of Cambodia. There are over 100 sites around Cambodia, but this is the main tourist destination and is the site of the largest memorial Stupa. At Choeung Ek people were brought to be killed after interrogation, torture and inevitable confession. Mass graves were dug and then whilst blindfolded and handcuffed the prisoners were lined up on the edge of the grave and murdered by anything to hand. The executioners didn’t use guns, probably to save ammunition (but the real reason isn’t known), they used ordinary farm tools, hammers, pitch forks, poison and barbed vines from palm stalks. As we walk around the location of some of the mass graves are covered and fenced off. In other places depressions in the ground mark where bodies have been excavated from the mass graves. Over 9000 people were killed at this site alone, an estimated 1.5 million people were executed between 1975 and 1979 at sites like this around Cambodia. Rags and bones keep coming to the surface after heavy rains. These are collected and put on display. Perhaps the worst part was a tree, known as the ‘killing tree’, against which children were killed, in front of their mothers. The children and babies were picked up by the legs and killed against the tree trunk, then thrown into the mass grave. To think about it is bad enough, to try and understand is impossible. The reason the children had to be killed was because Pol Pot said ‘to kill the grass you must also remove the roots’. He believed that the families of ‘traitors’ should be killed to prevent any members of the family seeking revenge. Another saying he taught was, “It is better to kill an innocent by accident than let a traitor go by accident”. Those are the sayings of a sick and warped mind who somehow was the leader of this country for four years. The memorial stupa contains the bones from many of the bodies excavated in the mass graves. Over 900 skulls in the first 10 levels. Our next destination was the Security Prison 21 (S-21), known fully as Tuol Sleng. Before the Khmer Rouge took over this was a school. Amazingly, within hours of entering Phnom...

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We took a Tuk Tuk ride to The Killing Fields about 15km from the heart of Phnom Penh. The Killing Fields are mass graves, of which there are many spread around the country. Genocide was committed by the Khmer Rouge whose leader was Pol Pot. This man’s paranoia led to the deaths of 3million and yet he died a natural death at the age of 82. Under this man’s leadership the Khmer Rouge abolished money, closed schools and sent everyone to the countryside, in order to create a pure race. Upon his ‘liberation’ of Phnom Penh the Khmer Rouge almost instantly began killed the impure people such as the intellectuals, the professionals, the educated. He recruited the ignorant, those who could not read and write, mainly boys aged 14-22 who became the guards and the murderers of their fellow people. Others starved as grain was sold for weapons. Towns and all those who lived in them were destroyed as they were capitalist. Phnom Penh was a ghost town until 1985. This regime was recognised by the UN and even after their downfall the West dared not help as the country was seen as a puppet of Vietnam. As we learnt about this history we were walking around an area full of mass graves. Men, woman and children were killed because Pol Pot said you must kill the root for fear of reprisals should the family survive. Although the Killing Fields are not much more than a field at times you see rags of clothes and human bones poking through the soil and so it becomes living history. It is still raw for the people that survived. It is raw in the sense that it has not been sanitised for the tourists. At the genocide museum there are blood stains on the floor from the 20,000 victims. The row upon row of eyes which stare at you in what were the cells make you reflect that this happened and it wasn’t that long ago. At the Killing Fields the audio guide played the Patriotic songs and the sound of the diesel engine which were used to cover up the screams. They tell it as it was. The museum was a prison and torture centre during the Khmer Rouge years, it had been a school, but it was empty as was the rest of the city. Houses around the school were also used for interrogation. Our guide who took us around the museum lived through the Khmer Rouge era. She saw her country destroyed and has to live with the fact that family members disappeared. The worst thing about today was...

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