|Rice fields near Choeung Ek, outside Phnom Penh|
Blog Entry #42: Cambodia: The Khmer Rouge and the Killing Fields
Thursday, October 27, 2011
I have spent several days trying to figure out how to write about the time we spent in Phnom Penh, seeing first hand some of the legacy of the genocidal regime of the Khmer Rouge who were responsible for the deaths of 2 million Cambodians – 1/3 of the population of Cambodia at the time – during their 4 years of rule 1975-79. But words largely fail me. [Note: the content and photos in this blog entry may be upsetting, so please use your judgment as to whether you want to continue reading].
|Sign at Stupa with skulls|
Following our visit to the Royal Palace, we drove the 15 km west from Phnom Penh to the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek where over 17,000 political prisoners were executed. The story of the Khmer Rouge is now well-known, and was brought to a western audience through the 1984 British film called The Killing Fields, which chronicled the intertwined stories of the Cambodian journalist, Dith Pran, and his American journalist colleague, Sydney Schanberg.
|The Cambodian People's Party, successor to Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge|
After the Khmer Rouge were overthrown by the Vietnamese army in 1979, evidence of the atrocities they had committed came to light. Over 20,000 mass graves have been documented, and an estimated nearly 1.4 million remains of their victims in these graves. Further deaths from disease and starvation during this period bring the total killed to an estimated 2.5 million.
|Entering the Killing Fields at Choeung Ek|
|Gravestone dated 1969|
Choeung Ek is a deceptively beautiful and peaceful site today, with a small trail that takes visitors through a cratered landscape, the pits where the mass graves have been exhumed. A Chinese cemetery prior to its conversion to a site of mass executions, fragments of funerary urns and bones of victims still appear regularly at the surface after the frequent rains expose them. Simple signs along the trail inform the visitor of the different atrocities that took place at each site.
|Stupa filled with victims' skulls|
|V____ telling family's story under the Khmer Rouge|
|V in the Killing Fields|
|Pol Pot's dream: an agrarian communist Cambodian society|
|Remnants of Victims killed at Choeung Ek|
|Trial of "Duch", Chief of the Central Prison S_21|
|Entering the Genocide Museum, walking past genocide survivors|
|V talking to us at S-21|
|Child "criminals" held captive at S-21|
|Tuol Sleng S-21 Torture Center|
|Pat & Bou Meng at S-21|
Very few people who entered S-21 came out alive. Only 7 are known to have emerged alive; we were fortunate to meet one of them, Bou Meng, who spoke to Pat and signed a copy of his memoir.
We continued on with our itinerary in Cambodia, headed to the Phnom Penh airport for our short flight north to Siem Reap and the temples of Angkor Wat. But the memories of this day and the history we encountered will remain with me, a poignant reminder of the need to confront genocide whenever and wherever it occurs, and not to stand by, silent.