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The Kirwan Twins Adventures We've finally graduated, so we're setting off for three months to backpack around India, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand before entering the "real world."

The Killing Fields

CAMBODIA | Thursday, 26 April 2007 | Views [663]

As some of you may not know....Cambodia was the site of unfathomable violence, or what many call genocide, during the Khmer Rouge (a.k.a. Pol Pot regime. From 1975-1979, about 2 million men, women, and children were killed in order to pave way for a communist government that would segregate Cambodian society into two classes: the workers and the peasants. In order to do so, the regime targeted all educated and religious people, including political opposers, teachers, buddhists, engineers, technicians, intellectuals, professors, students, ministers and diplomats. The Khmer Rouge did not discriminate against foreigners residing in Cambodia, such as foreign reporters and journalists. Whole families of the prisoners, from the bottom up, including new-born babies, were also taken en masse to the Tuol Sleng Prison, where they were tortured, interrogated, and detained, and later to Choeung Ek (the killing fields) to be exterminated. In order to get a bit more "background information on the subject, we're all reading the book First, They Killed My Father" and watching the movie "The Killing Fields," both of which give more personal accounts of people and families affected by the genocide. Read up and watch if you please!

First we visited Tuol Sleng Museum. It was originally the Tuol Svay Prey High School, whose rooms were converted into mass and individual cells for the Tuol Sleng prison (a.k.a. Security Prison-21), which literally means "a poisonous hill or place on a mound to keep those who bear or supply guilt [toward Angkar]." From May 1976 to 1978 some 10,500 prisoners were kept here, not including the number of children killed by the KR regime at the prison. Apart from the seven survivors of Tuol Sleng, all of the prisoners here were later taken to Choeung Ek to be killed.

While being detained here, prisoners were forced to keep quiet and to ask permission for basic tasks such as going to the bathroom, changing position in sleep, etc. If they did anything without asking first, they were beaten. Iron shackles were placed on each prisoner's ankle and then tied to a long iron rod (sometimes multiple people to one rod), which prevented them from moving. They were forced to pass bowel movements in an iron box and to urinate in a small cup. Since many prisoners were thought to be political opposers, they were interrogated and tortured by gruesome methods to obtain information, which was often contrived in often to avoid more torture. Guards forced prisoners to write pages of "confessions" and biographies, which they subsequently documented along with the prisoners mug shot, many of which are now on display in the museum. Important prisoners were kept in cells that measured .8 x 2 meters. Guards, who were often kids from 10 - 15 years of age, would walk back and forth to prevent anyone from escaping the bricked in cells. Many of those working for the Khmer Rouge were forced to work and kill for the regime and, often, they were later accused of treachery and imprisoned themselves. Essentially, no one was safe from the regime.

We quietly wandered in and out of the cells, careful not to step on the brown floor stains, which eerily resembled (and most likely was) blood. Many of the mass cells contaned photo exhibits of enlarged mug shots from the documentation center of the Khmer Rouge (they documented everything in writing and photography, including graphic pictures of dead prisoners). Following the massacre, many Cambodian people ventured to the museum in search of a photo of their lost loved ones...

From here, we headed to Choeng Ek, a location deliberately placed 15km out of town and in the middle of nowhere. Twice a month, trucks of prisoners would arrive here for extermination. The guards would first put the prisoners in a dark and gloomy shed for detention before taking them into the field. When they called their names, each prisoner would come out and they were told to squat, kneel, or stand. A guard would then hit them in the back of the neck with an iron rod and, once fallen, slit their throats. Savage methods were used in order to save bullets. During the killings, the guards would play loud sounds on a loudspeaker tied to a tree in order to drown out the moans of prisoners and avoid suspicion of nearby farmers.

Mass graves have been excavated, some of naked women and children and others full of headless victims. There is still a large area that has not yet been excavated, but all throughout the fields there seems to be the remnants of people - clothing, bones, and teeth - emerging from the ground. From those bodies that have been found, the current government has erected a beautiful pagoda-style monument with a glass encasment containing the skulls of those who suffered during the Khmer Rouge.

As it was an inappropriately beautiful day for a scene of such gruesome crimes, it was difficult to fully grasp the atrocity, which is why we're doing some additional reading. I apologize if this was difficult to read, but like so many other unforgiveable past and present world events, I feel that it is important to share these experiences with you all.

The next day, we reenergized our spirits with a trip to the local orphanage where we were greeted by many hugs! We spent a few hours sitting with the girls, who were making the same string bracelets that we were making at their age, and helped them practice their English. Occasionally, I would wander over to where a group of 5 toddlers spent hours wrapping sand in plastic chip bags, stripping down and running around naked for no apparent reason, and playing like brothers and sisters. All of the 44 children living in the complex seemed to be happy and were so adorable, it was hard not to smuggle one home in our tuk-tuk! Hmmm...maybe next time!

To a peaceful future...


Tags: Sightseeing

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