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Published: October 6th 2006
Victim of the Khmer Rouge
14/09/06 Phnom Penh
The Cambodian Genocide of the 70's was a harrowing time for the Cambodian people and no doubt any other sentient beings with any inkling as to what was happening within Cambodian borders.
Tuol Sleng (http://www.tuolsleng.com/) codenamed S-21 was a school that Pol Pot turned into a prison. It now serves as a museum and is left very much how it was found with original cells left with beds, chains and objects of torture as the fleeing Khmer Rouge fled form the approaching Vietnamese army. Every one of the 17,000 people that passed through the prison had their photograph taken and recorded. Now hundreds and hundreds of these photographs of the innocent men, woman and children are displayed on huge boards in the old school classrooms.
Looking closely at their faces, some appear slightly scared, some terrified, but most look blankly at the camera with seemingly no understanding of why they were there or what there fate would be. This was the regime that they had welcomed into the capital with open arms and cheering, promises of a much needed change of Government to end the fighting and civil war that had raged the country so
long. Little clue did they have on that day 17th April 1975, that the next 4 years were to be a time even worse and unparalleled in Cambodia's history as Pol Pot took the country back to his dream of Year Zero turning the entire country into a giant labour camp.
All people were ordered out into the country to work in fields. Banks and currency were destroyed and any people considered threatening were killed. This included all doctors, architects, engineers, any skilled workers which did not fit the communist ideal of a people of equals, all making up one single agricultural work force.
The ridiculous list of regulations is still displayed where it stood in the prison yard, and includes such rules as
While getting lashes or electrification you must not cry at all
15km SE of the city is the Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre, one of the over 400 Cambodian 'killing fields' where thousands of men, woman and children were beaten to death, often bludgeoned with sticks or children swung against trees in order to spare 'precious' bullets. Bodies were thrown into mass graves. The killing fields were all positioned near water as the Khmer Rouge had hoped that flooding would wipe away any traces
of the bodies of their crimes but the killing fields just grew and grew way beyond the scale that they had originally considered. Many graves were washed away, but many more remain. Walking around the area there are pieces of clothing and bone pushing up through the ground which struggles to contain the enormity of the inhumane acts.
Walking around in silence, it is impossible to ignore the constant question in your head asking how such inhumane behaviour is possible. And for someone of my age, the obvious difference between Cambodia and the Jewish Holocaust of the 2nd World War is the knowledge that I was actually alive on this planet, whilst these terrible things were happening. I had to stop and reflect upon Rwanda and other troubled parts of the earth where inhumane behavior has occurred, knowing that whilst we live comfortable lives there are those who are suffering. The day was difficult and sobering, as we knew it would be.
In one exhibition room in Tuol Sleng prison was a comments book, which had, as yet remained empty. I too left without comment. It seemed fitting that there were no words to say.
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