Monday, 11 June 2012

Choeung Ek

The following day we went to Choeung Ek (the killing fields.) The majority of the detainees at S21 were taken here to meet their end. Bullets were precious commodities and victims were often bludgeoned to death as to not waste precious ammunition. We walked around the now very peaceful land, meandering between the large shallow graves. Often when I looked down at the dirt path I could see scraps of fabric and fragments of bone jutting through the soil. When it rains more bone and items of clothing are continually brought to the surface. There are lots of remnants displayed in the museum but so may pieces continue to appear that there is simply not enough room to store them all and so they are left in the ground. It's a very erie place where the spirits of the bodies will not lie still.

We each had an audio tour which guided us around the grounds. As we walked we heard stories of both survivors and soldiers of the regime. The most chilling part of our walk was when we got to the killing tree. This huge tree was used to kill children. Again, instead of wasting bullets kids were beaten off the tree until dead. When the Khmer regime fell an unsuspecting local man came into the grounds in search of food. He was overwhelmed by a deadly smell and walked further to explore. He found the tree with tufts of hair and pieces of brain dangling from the bark. Confused he looked to his side and saw the mass grave explaining the cause. It was difficult listening to his description of the event.

So many soldiers denied the involvement in the genocide. One in particular was brought to Choeung Ek and upon standing in front of the tree he broke down in tears and admitted all his crimes which he had hidden for so many years. We also heard the story of his role within the army and the events which took place. Horrific.

 A merciless dickhead - There is no other way to describe the leader Paul Pot.

He justified the killing of children saying, "to dig up the grass one must also remove the roots." His mantra during the genocide was, "to keep you is no gain, to lose you is no loss." I cannot fathom how such a person even existed. It makes me incredibly angry to consider his ignorance and manipulation.

The regime fell in 1979 leaving approximately 3million dead and a defeated nation in its wake. It is intangible to think that this was just 33years ago? This means that anyone we see on the streets over the age of 40 recalls living through these atrocious horrors. I can't grasp how they continue living with these troubles printed forever in their minds. One guy we spoke with at our guest house who was the same age as us says whenever the events are mentioned to his parents they cry uncontrollably.

To look at the Cambodian people now there are no signs to suggest such horrors ever occurred. The Khmer's all smile warmly and are very gentle in nature. The infrastructure of the country is growing and is far more developed than in other places we have visited. It really is incredible.

It's a pity that we don't have more time here as I would really like to get to know the people and obtain and understanding for how they have coped with everything that has happened.

They are an exceptionally admirable race.

S21 Phnom Penh

Next we travelled onto Phnom Penh. After the highs of Angkor Wat the day before we would not whiteness somewhat of a low.Phnom Penh is home to S21 (genocide museum) and Choeung Ek (killing fields) - dark remnants of the horrors committed during the rule of the Khmer Rouge.

Arriving at S21 immediately sent me cold. The old dilapidated building is a dull block in the cities skyline. The grounds are surrounded by barbed wire and beggars with limbs lost to the war. The building was originally a school which was then converted into one of many prisons by the Khmer. We walked through rooms where prisoners were held and tortured. Some of the rooms housed just one bed which the detainees were strapped to and viciously interrogated. As I looked at the worn tiles on the floor I wondered how many weary feet had fallen across this ground.

We saw tiny cell blocks where prisoners were chained up and locked away. The darkened grease surrounding the portal window in the door left as a shadow of the hands which spent hours holding on, peering out of the gap and waiting for rescue.

Like the Nazis, the Khmer's were meticulous in documenting the unfortunate people who passed through here. Thousands of photos line the of rooms on each floor. Men, women and children, all photographed in the same room, same position, all featuring looks of terror and dismay.

When I entered the first few rooms I made sure to take my time and look at each person directly. The rooms continued to present more and more victims and in the end I couldn't give time to them all. Some images particularly haunted me and I found it difficult to question of the future memory of some of the youngsters, who's photographs were fading. 

There were also photo documentation of people being tortured and even more pictures of dead bodies lying across the tiled floors where earlier we stood.

Out of the 20,000 prisoners sent to S21 just seven people survived. All possessed a skill desirable to the Khmer. Most were artists who spent hours painting portraits of the evil Paul Pot. If he was unimpressed, they were killed.

I read the stories of these survivors in the museum and they were truly harrowing.
The day was difficult and a shocking eye opener.