S21 and the Killing Fields

A more sober day today. Everyone is aware of the genocide that happened in the mid to late 70’s in Cambodia.

In the very simplistic of terms Pol Pot,influenced by China and some western interference from America tried to create a completely Communist run country. The belief being that you needed no schools, no cars, no factories but only agriculture and total belief in the system. In the shape of the Khmer Rouge they set about imprisoning and then killing any civil servants first and then worked their way down believing children were the purest and could be brainwashed into their way of thinking.

Tuol Sleng genocide museum is a former security office S21, being one of many across Cambodia. Previously this had been a school that was now supposedly not needed. Some of the rooms were turned into torture chambers and others housed large groups. The atrocities and brutality we were told about are best not mentioned here. Everyone who entered S21 apart from seven who were discovered when it was liberated (husbands, wives, children) died. The Khmer Rouge were meticulous record keepers and they recorded and photographed everyone who entered S21. There are hundreds of photos on display as you walk around, the women with their hair cut short and everyone staring at the camera with a sad haunted look except for a few who had no idea what were going on so smiled at the camera.

There are only two survivors left, one being Bou Meng, now in his eighties we were fortunate to meet. It’s a chilling place to visit.

A short journey across town and we arrived at the killing field – again one of many. This one was a former orchard. Within days of the Khmer Rouge coming into power the entire population was marched into the countryside. Disobedience of any sort bought immediate execution. Currency and postal services were abolished, the country was now cut off from the outside world. Again the atrocities carried out here are too graphic to write about. The Khmer Rouge even thought a bullet was too precious to waste so they found other ways of killing the people.

There is a monument which houses 8000 skulls and it is a sobering testament to what man is capable of. The Khmer Rouge ruled for 3 years 8 months and 20 days. In that time 2,000,000 million or a third of the total population of Cambodia disappeared. Currently only one person is in prison for his part played and two more men in their eighties are on trial. The cost so far is £20,000,000 and we as British tax payers are all paying the bill. The rest of the perpetrators live comfortably in the country. Buddhists believe in peace and there is a feeling that a civil war could again start if there is too much interference. It’s hard to believe that this all happened so recently.

It had been a heavy day so we had early evening drinks on the terrace of the FCC (Foreign Correspondants Club) a lovely setting high up overlooking the Mekong River with four large jugs of passion fruit daiquiri – £5 per head!

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