Located 9 miles away from the main city of Phnom Penh, the ‘killing fields’ of Choeung Ek have become a horrifying and fascinating tourist attraction. The horrors of war, political upheaval and massive genocide, committed during the Khmer Rouge empire from April 17, 1975 to January 7, 1979, spread within this soccer field-size area of Cambodia.
Documented statistics states that almost 1.7 million Cambodians, i.e. 21% of the population were killed during the regime, and yet still during the monsoons, bone fragments wash up and new graves are unearthed. To be honest, it was one of the most depressing places that I have ever stepped my foot on to. Not just because of the grim political history, but these strange echo of silence around the place that you can feel creeping on to your soul.
While the mass graves clearly shows the horrors of the Killing Fields, the most haunting would be the portraits that were taken during the Khmer Rouge at S-21. Today, the S-21 Prison is known as the Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide.
Inside the gates, it looks like a typical high school; five buildings facing a grass courtyard with pull-up bars, green lawns and lawn-bowling pitches. But as you start exploring the so-called classrooms, instead of school desks and chairs, you come across scorched steel bed frames with shackles at each end that used to be connected to electric points used as a means of tourturing the prisoners.
In another building, the walls are papered with thousands of portraits of the S-21 prisoners; some of the exhibits explain how bullets were considered as too precious to be used for executions, hence axes, knives and bamboo sticks were far more common. As for the children, these murderers simply battered them against trees.
I was fortunate to meet one of the survivor outside the museum – Chum Mey, who has recently released a confession book documenting all the horrors that were inflicted.
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