Sunday, 27 October 2013

A sobering day - S21 and the killing fields

After a hideous 13 hour bus trip from Don Det we finally made it to Phnom Penh at 11pm.

Having had a 6 hour sleep we were up early to join the Stray bus for the Cambodia leg of the tour. Our first stop was S21 the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.

This place used to be a secondary school before the Khmer Rouge gained power in 1975. They turned it into a prison and torture centre. It's truly chilling - especially the photographs of the young Khmer Rouge guards - just children....

Middle picture -  block C left at it was at the time of the prison with electrified barbed wire to stop escapes

From top left:
VIP cell - with photo on the wall showing the prisoner who was executed shortly before the Vietnamese won Phnom Pehn back. VIPs were usually members of 
Photos of piles of skeletons from the killing fields excavation
Rules of the prison
View through the old school classrooms where prisoners were held
Barbed wire gate into block C
Cell 22 -  where Chum Mey was kept - one of 12 survivors of the prison, of the 20,000 who came through the doors
Shackles used for long rows of prisoners on the crowded upper floors
Me with Chum Mey! He now sells a book about his experiences and has given evidence for the war crimes tribunal in Cambodia
Map of Cambodia demonstrating how the genocide covered all the country 
View of the prison block showing the upper floors - barbed wire was added to stop people jumping off the top to commit sucide

Prisoners weren't killed here - they were transported to killing fields to be killed and buried. Off the 12 to survive I met 2 of them - Chum Mey and Bou Meng - both old men in their 80s. They were selling books about their experiences and were determined that people should know about the atrocity, however they weren't bitter, in fact this sums up the attitude of the Cambodians in general. 

Our Cambodian guide CoCo said that this was driven by their Buddhist faith. Still it's strange to think that the war crimes tribunal isn't finished yet and some of the leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime are still at liberty.

We moved on next to the actual killing fields outside of Phnom Pehn. There isn't just one location for the 'killing fields' there are about 500 places found through out the country that were used to kill men women and children. We visited Choeng Ek.

Here there are many gruesome reminders of the killings. The Khmer Rouge saved bullets by bashing people over the head by large pits, ready for them to fall into. Babies and children they held by their legs and bashed their heads against this tree. 

A man who stumbled over the killing field after the Khmer Rouge had fled gave testimony on discovering this tree with blood, hair and bits of brain on it.

We all had tears in our eyes.

Still today after the rains they find pieces of bone, teeth and clothing washed up to the surface - so the work here is ongoing. 

The main bones and skulls are preserved in the monument to the people who died.

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