We all know the Khmer Rouge are known for some really bad atrocities. Until I made todays trip I just wasn’t sure what they did. My first trip was out to the Cheung Ek Killing Fields. The title of the place kind of says it all, although the Khmer Rouge did their best to make sure no one knew it existed.
Prisoners were told they were being transferred to another prison, before ending up at Cheung Ek. This was so they didn’t resist too much. Cheung Ek, was also an old Chinese cemetry so it was thought a few extra bodies wouldn’t make a difference. Some of the graves though held 400 bodies. Women and children were killed here also. It was Khmer Rouge policy to remove all the roots of a family tree as well, so as to minimize the chance of revenge. The regime only lasted 3 years but the Khmer rouge survived long past that. After Vietnam helped depose the Khmer rouge the new government was not recognised by anyone, because the newly formed Vietnam helped depose Pol Pot and his dictatorship. The Khmer Rouge even held a seat on the UN well past their “use-by date”. The western world sat idle and let Pol Pot get away with a lot of bad stuff.
As for Cheung Ek, the place evokes similar feelings of grief, that I’d have had any wartime prison camp in Europe or anywhere else in the world. The sad thing is some of the people are only just being convicted now of war crimes. They had 30 years of freedom and now in their old age being sent to jail to pay for their crimes. Its hardly fair.
In the centre of Cheung Ek is a Stupa, that houses the skulls of all the bodies found at Cheung Ek. Its mind numbing to see this, but the whole of Cheung Ek is tastefully done to respect all those involved. Even though most people walk around on an audio tour, I feel the few normal tours with guides talking ruined the atmosphere.
Anyway after Cheung Ek I visited Tuol Sleng aka S21 prison. S21 was a school converted into a prison camp. After all the Khmer rouge (many of whom were educated overseas) stated that people didn’t need an education, they needed to work hard instead. Naturally educated people lead to insurgency, thus easier to not let them be educated. The prison was just as real with information on torture conducted there and photos of the inmates.
Tomorrow is a travel day to Siem Reap and the temples of Angkor Wat.