Posts By Country




March 31st, 2011 | Asia

S-21 and The Killing Fields…

Until I actually arrived in Phnom Penh, I had not yet made up my mind whether I would visit the Killing Fields and S-21, the notorious prison where so many people were interrogated, tortured and killed…

Considering that I had already visited the Genocide Memorials in Rwanda and Poland, and had also ridden through Kosovo, I hardly needed reminding of how brutal a species we could be… The evening before we were due to tour the area, I sat thinking about my visit to Auschwitz, and the effect it had had on me…

I had no desire to go through that mind-numbing experience again…

I discussed my feelings with Trevor and Chenty, and discovered that having also visited Second World War Memorials in Europe, they seemed to feel the same way I did… Morgan however, was keen to visit the two sites that Phnom Penh was best known for, and in a fit of solidarity, we decided to make the trip together…

Due to the oppressive heat, we were advised by Milan to reverse the normal sequence of the tour, and went out to the Killing Fields first, which was out in the open countryside, 15 km south of the city…

We spent the morning there, then went back into Phnom Penh to the detention and torture centre of S-21, where many of Pol Pot’s victims began their nightmare journey to the Killing Fields…

To give you a better idea of how events would have unfolded during the genocide that took place here, I have stitched this post together starting with S-21…

I will let the photos I took, together with the many drawings and paintings we found on display, tell most of the story, along with a few bare facts of what took place here during this terrible period of Cambodia’s history…

The gates of what was once a school...

Between 1976 and 1979, Pol Pot and a small group of his most trusted cadres, ruled Cambodia…

It took just five people to completely subjugate a nation, bringing it to it’s knees and as one poster claims, “driving Cambodia back to the Stone Age”…

During this time, they were responsible for the death, torture and murder of an estimated 3 million people, the vast majority being Cambodians, but also including many Chinese and Vietnamese, as well as a small number of “Westerners”…

Pol Pot’s vision of Kampuchea, was one where all people were equal, taking the communist doctrine he so firmly believed in, to it’s n’th degree…

He called himself “Brother Number One”, and advocated total independence and self reliance; total and immediate economic revolution; the complete transformation of Khmer society and social values; and last but not least, the preservation of the dictatorship of the proletariat…

In order to transform Cambodia into an agrarian society, he emptied the capital city of Phnom Penh…. Emptied it…!! Take a minute to think about that…!!

Can you imagine turning a capital city into a ghost town…?? A deserted London or Paris…?? Every living soul expelled from the city and sent into the countryside to work as peasants… He gave orders that all towns were to be “rusticated”, their inhabitants or “urbanites”, reformed from their current “class system” through hard labour… Thousands of people died during theses mass evacuations…

The few basic rules by which prisoners lived during their short stay at S-21...

Prisoners were hung from the frame until they lost consciousness, and then taken down, dipped into large pots of water to regain their senses, then hoisted up again...

The frame that once held swings for the children, stands outside one of the buildings at the prison...

He banned all forms of trading, burnt market places, and nationalised every inch of Cambodian soil… There was no such thing as “private property” under his rule…

All foreign clothing styles were banned, and the nation forced to wear the black, baggy shirt and trousers that this part of the world is remembered for…

The National Bank was burned to the ground… He abolished the monetary system…

Schools, universities, hospitals, pagodas, churches, mosques and government buildings were either shut or turned into prisons, re-education camps or granaries…

Pol Pot wanted Cambodia to be the biggest rice producing nation on earth, and set the entire population to the task of making his dream a reality… He figured that if the nation could feed itself, that was all there was to be concerned about…

Bound and beaten until they confessed imagined or non-existent crimes...

Mass interrogation... Rows of prisoners were bound together, ankle to ankle, and then tortured en-masse...

Many prisoners did not survive the torture, and were carried away to be buried in unmarked mass graves...

Those that were still alive, were bound and blindfolded, then loaded onto trucks and driven to Cheung Ek...

He transformed Cambodia into a rural, “classless society”, where there were no rich, no poor, and no exploitation…

Soon after seizing power, he let it be known that only “the pure” would be allowed to build the new nation, and then arrested, imprisoned, tortured and murdered thousands of soldiers, officers and civil servants from the previous government…

So began the genocide that will forever be associated with the names “Pol Pot”, “Khmer Rouge” and “Cambodia”…

He turned his attention to any person who dared question his rule or openly speak of ideas that were not in keeping with his own “master plan”…

He had entire families arrested, including children and babies… His motto of “in order to clean the land of grass, it is necessary to cut the entire root out”, was strictly adhered to…

At his trial in 1990, one of Pol Pot’s clique of five, known as “Duch”, who was the former chief of S-21, was quoted as saying: “There was no gain in keeping the children and babies alive, as they might take revenge on you later…”

The Memorial Stupa at Cheung Ek... It contains 17 narrow levels, 10 of which contain the skulls of the bodies exhumed here... The remainder contain other bones and items of clothing and personal effects found with the bodies

Morgan stands outside the entrance to the memorial...

People who survived the interrogations and torture at the country’s various prisons, were later taken out into the countryside and usually clubbed to death, before being buried in mass graves…

There are hundreds of these sites throughout Cambodia, and the one known as “The Killing Fields” just outside Phnom Penh is by virtue of it’s proximity to the city, the most “famous”…

At this particular site, 129 mass graves have been identified, of which 86 have been excavated. The remains of 8 985 people were discovered in these 86 graves…

The remaining 46 graves have been left undisturbed…

Our Tuk-Tuk ride to Cheung Ek Genocide Memorial as it is officially known, was made mostly in silence… I think we were all dreading what we would find there and the effect it would have on us…

Shortly after our arrival, and without a word to the others, I went off on my own, preferring to walk through the grounds alone, not wanting to speak to anybody… There was no need for talk at a place like this…

The sights and descriptive signs spoke loudly enough…

Blindfolded, prisoners were led to the edge of the ready dug pits, and either clubbed to death, using metal pipes and shovels, or had their throats slit...

Bodies were dumped into the pits... People who worked at these extermination centres later testified that many people were still alive when the mass graves were filled in...

To think that there are so many graves like this throughout the country...some of them remain undiscovered...

There are no accounts available to explain why the corpses here were headless...

 

Pol Pot famously declared that “Bullets are not to be wasted on the “anti-revolutionaries” and put forward a theory that only two million people were needed in the new Cambodia…

People who had been moved out of the cities were slowly starved to death by limiting the amount of food they were given on a daily basis… They were forced to survive on two small bowls of rice a day…

He also coined the phrase, “To keep you is no benefit, to destroy you is no loss”…

A small portion of the 129 mass graves discovered here at Cheung Ek...

The sign that finally took me over the edge...

Beyond my imagination...

I walked on past the many signs, my chest in a vice, my throat tight, my feet dragging through the dust…

I wanted to be away from this place… It was more than just the extreme heat of the day that I felt pressing down on my shoulders…

I heard the bubbling waters of the stream that flowed behind the area of mass graves, and worked my way towards the shade of the large trees near its banks…

A small sign near one of the trees stopped me in my tracks…

I could no longer control the emotions that had been threatening to overwhelm me… I let the tears flow, but clamped my mouth tightly shut to hold back the moans that I knew were about to escape…

I stumbled down to the banks of the stream and stood there for the longest time, my chest shuddering, dragging in deep breaths until I felt calm enough to return to a small gazebo on the edge of the site…

I sat on the bench there, watching Trevor and Chenty as they worked their way slowly towards me… Their heads were bowed and they did not notice me as they passed… I saw them taking comfort from each other, and felt a sudden pang of loneliness wash over me…

It was not a good idea for me to visit places like this on my own…

Afterward, we sat in silent reflection, numbed by what we had seen and heard...

I’ve given up asking myself the question, “How could this happen…?”

It just does…!! That’s all there is to it… It just does…!!

Just a few weeks ago, a man ordered his air force to bomb his own people, who have grown tired of his 41 years of rule…!!

And this type of madness will go on happening, until a method is found to identify people with megalomaniacal tendencies, and have them taken away to be quietly and efficiently euthanazed…

And if you are looking for someone to press the plunger on the hypodermic, feel free to call me…!! (I will gladly put away my fear of needles to get the job done…!!)

Cambodia - A country of skulls and bones...

When the Vietnamese forces finally invaded and overran Phnom Penh, they discovered 14 bodies at S-21, and these were buried on the grounds on the prison…

Pol Pot fled into the jungles of south west Cambodia, and stayed there for the next 18 years until his death in 1998… He lived out his life in a village on the Thailand border where he received support from various sources who still believed in his ideals… The government of Thailand even provided an elite unit of soldiers to see to his safety…!!

He never stood trial for the horrors he had committed against his people which had resulted in the death of more than 20% of the population…

It took another ten years after the liberation of the country, before Pol Pot’s clique of henchmen were brought to trial… Only Duch confessed and took responsibility for his actions, the other three pleaded innocent to all charges…

It amazes me how this man was allowed to live after what he had done… How he continued to be supported until his death from natural causes, although some say he was poisoned…

We rode back to the city and even though we had paid to see a number of other sites, we decided to make a quick tour of the National Museum, and then call it a day…

Trevor and Morgan inside the National Museum, where it is FORBIDDEN TO TAKE PHOTOGRAPHS....!!

Back at the hotel, I spent a few minutes under a cold shower, trying to wash away the dust and sweat, along with the memories of the past few hours…

I downloaded the photos from my camera without bothering to look at them, and today (15th April) is the first time I have looked at them in detail since then…

I doubt whether I’ll be browsing through this folder again in the years to come…

©GBWT 2011

6 comments to S-21 and The Killing Fields…

  • Charmz

    I sit here and wonder if Pol Pot was a robot….how could a living being do such things?

  • Mark Behr

    Never sure how we allow these things to happen. I know of a place, closer to my old home, where a similar genocide has happened for over 30 years. Mugabe still goes on unchallenged.

  • Yeah Mark… It is because there are just too many tree-hugging, bunny-loving, do-gooders in this world who still believe that if you ask nicely, bad people will stop mis-behaving….!! Give the Mugabe’s of this world a bullet behind the ear, and watch things improve…!!

  • Tibor

    I agree Ronnie!
    It is a shame how idiot bastards like Mugabe, the Brotherly Leader (Kadhafi) have been staying in power for 30-40 years gaining outstanding personal wealth, while the “broad masses” are in devastating conditions. And the SA president Mr Sipho supports them!!! I understand why Mark left your beautiful country. No improvements will be achieved, the World always changes for the worse.
    What an optimistic point of view!
    Anyways on one of the pics shot in Cambodia we can see a “Golf Club” sign – this is not what Pol Pot ( Comrade No.1 in year zero) was visualizing for the Democratic Kampuchea’s future – for sure!

  • Vince Ricci

    …. speechless

  • Åke

    I can’t find any words for this…

Leave a Reply

 

 

 

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>