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Rosi & Jen's 11 Thousand Beach Odyssey Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you did not do, then the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream...."

The Killing Fields

CAMBODIA | Saturday, 19 April 2008 | Views [1015]

It’s difficult to put into words what we saw the other day.  It’s difficult in anyway to understand what the Cambodian people have been through.  Actually I find it impossible to grasp. 

In 1975, after 5 years of civil war, The Khmer Rouge, a guerrilla group, took control of Cambodia.  They forced all Cambodians to live in labour camps and work 14-18 hour days.  They separated families , they destroyed all Cambodian institutions and culture, they systematically tortured and killed innocent people.  It is estimated that during this time nearly a third of the Cambodian population was killed due to disease, starvation or execution.  The number of people tortured and killed is unfathomable.  1 millions, maybe 2 million, maybe more.  On a comparable scale with the Jewish holocaust. 

During this time a lot of people were imprisoned for no reason.  Children, women, artists, intellectuals, even new born babies.  Anyone they saw as a threat to their power.  And the Khmer Rouge were so paranoid that they seem to see anyone at all as a threat.   They created a “secret” prison in order to detain, interrogate, torture and finally execute prisoners.  The prison was called Security 21 “S.21”.  It is now a museum.   The Toul Sleng Genocide Museum.  The Khmer Rouge kept very accurate records of what they did to people. They took photos that sicken you.  The museum is filled with thousands of photos of the faces of the people that were tortured and killed.  Figures put the number of adults killed at this one particular prison over a 3 year period at 10499 and 2000 children. Only 7 people survived.  Most of the people were not killed in the prison but transported to a site 15 kms from Phnom Penh.  A place that will be known forever more as “The Killing Fields”.  Keep in mind I’m talking about one site here.  There were “Killing Fields” situated all over Cambodia.  Many bodies are still to be found. 

We visited both the Prison and the “The Killing Fields”.  The first thing you see when you walk into the “The Killing Fields” is a tall glass pyramid shaped monument.  We bought flowers and incense to offer.  As you approach the monument you see a skull, then another , then another,  then another……   In my life I have seen a couple of human skulls.  In school we were shown one in biology.  And in various museums from time to time I have seen them.  Whenever I see a skull I always wonder about the person who’s skull it was.  I wonder about their life and how they felt about things and what their dreams were and how old they were.  I don’t know if everyone does that but I always have.  When I saw the skulls at the “Killing Fields” monument my immediate reaction was the same.  I started to wonder.. but then I looked up and I looked in and I realized I was looking at a pyramid of  thousands and thousands of skulls.  Each skull had belonged to a real person with a real life and hopes and dreams and feelings.   It was such a shock.  Such a huge shock.  I could feel a lump welling in my throat.  I wasn’t expecting anything so confronting.  And it filled me with such a great heavy sadness.  Jen and I placed our offering and just walked silently around the monument.  From every side all we saw were skulls.  All we saw were beautiful lives cut short.

In the late 1970’s, at the same time this was all happening, we in Australia started to get refugees from Cambodia (or Kampuchea as it was known then) who were commonly known as “boat people”.  They were called this because desperate to flee the Khmer Rouge regime,  they usually arrived by the dozens or hundreds in small boats.  Some of them died en route.   At the time, there were the usual protests in Australia about how many South East Asian refugees we were taking.  There were even jokes about “boat people”.  I was only a child, but I remember it very clearly.  I don’t think anyone in mainstream Australia really had any idea what was going on over here. NOT A CLUE!  Coming here and seeing what we have seen and finding out about the indescribable horror that the Cambodians went though at the hands of their own people, it is all put in perspective.  It also makes us think about all the other people from all the other countries who have fled to Australia hoping to be welcomed and wanting only a safe haven for themselves and their children.  We need to think about how bad things must be for these people if they would leave their home land with nothing but the clothes on their back to start a new life.  How scared they must be.  How brave they are. 

We walked around the site of the “Killing Fields”.  It actually feels  very peaceful, a very quiet place now.  It’s hard to explain.  Everywhere there are deep wide holes in the ground where digging has taken place.  Mass graves uncovered.  Thousands of people were murdered here.  Beaten to death with iron bars or thrown against trees or shot.  Thrown into mass graves.  Some beheaded.   Men, women and children.   They are yet to really know the full extent of the graves.  As you walk around you still see bone fragments on the ground.  We both walked over bone still buried in the ground.  We saw human bones leaning against a tree that had a sign on it saying that people had their heads smashed against the same tree.  You still see half buried clothing EVERYWHERE.  There are signs next to each large hole telling how many people were found buried there.  It’s horrific.   The worst thing I have ever seen.  I will never forget it.

 With heavy hearts we walked around slowly without speaking.  There was nothing to say.  Finally I said “Why?” Jen just shook her head.  It was a question that will never be answered.

Tags: cambodia, genocide, khmer rouge, the killing fields

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