On the 7th January 1979, Phnom Penh was liberated by the Vietnamese, bringing to an end over three years of barbarism at the hands of the evil Pol Pot and his feared Khmer Rouge regime.
41 years on, we should never forget the atrocities. I visited in 2015 and here is my account of what I saw.
The Khmer Rouge
This is not my normal style of post, but a story that should be repeated a million times so all are aware of what horrors went on in Cambodia in the seventies………
In the same way that no visit to the wonderful city of Kraków should be unaccompanied by a sombre, thought-provoking side trip to Auschwitz, you cannot come to Cambodia and not take in the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek or the Tuol Sleng Detention Centre.
Only then can you truly understand the country you are in, as its relatively modern history touches every citizen of this proud nation in the same way that the Holocaust is forever cemented in the conscious of the Jewish people.
Pol Pot led the Khmer Rouge’s iron grip on the country from 1975-1979, a period when an estimated 3 million of the 8 million population lost their lives to starvation, disease and the genocide. Pot, like so many despots educated in the West, had a vision of turning Cambodia into the perfect Communist state.
To do this, he repatriated all city dwellers into the countryside to work laborious long days in collective farms. Gruesomely he also dictated that every educated person and their families should be executed, lest they rise up and threaten his regime.
Tuol Sleng, one of dozens like them around the country, is the former high school that was horrifically converted into a prison and torture chamber known as S-21, where educated citizens were sent to extract false confessions of crimes against the State. Of the men, women and children that entered the horrendous place, only a handful survived, liberated by the Vietnamese army at the end of Pot’s barmy reign of terror.
Walking around the site in total silence, looking at the torture rooms (former classrooms containing one rusty iron bed and some shackles) and viewing the cells that were no bigger than your wardrobe, you could not help but feel depressed. That this happened so recently and continues to happen around the world, is even more depressing. That Pol Pot avoided prosecution and was able to die surrounded by his extended family in 1998 is just staggering.
I will not describe the goings on at Tuol Sleng, there is plenty of description for those that are interested on the web, but here are a few pictures to paint the story.
The Killing Fields, Cambodia
Once the false confessions were gained, the confessor and their extended families were taken by truck to Choeung Ek, again one of dozens of so called Killing Fields dotted around the country. That it poured with rain whilst we were there was entirely fitting.
After making that final journey, the innocents had less than a day to live. The end would have been seen by most as a mercy. Even then the Khmer Rouge did it the macabre way, bullets were not to be wasted when a blunt instrument would do the job just as well. Remember, these were Cambodians killing Cambodians. Just mind-numbing.
You can read the harrowing account of Chum Mey, one of the few survivors from S-51 by clicking here.