Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Killing Fields of Cambodia

The "Killing Fields" is a joint name for a number of sites in Cambodia, where mass murder of Cambodians took place during the Khmer Rouge regime.

Bones of Cambodians executed at Choueng Ek

As I mentioned in my previous post, in just four years of its rule the Khmer Rouge was responsible for killing of about 2 to 3 million of Cambodian people, or about 30% of Cambodian population at that time. The Khmer Rouge regime targeted and executed everyone that was suspected of connections with the former government or with foreign governments, as well as professionals, intellectuals, Buddhist monks, Muslims, Christians, and members of Cambodia's ethnic minorities (Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese). The aim was to create "pure" agrarian and communist society.

There are over 20'000 mass grave sites in Cambodia. We visited one of them, Choeung Ek, located about 17 km south of Phnom Penh.
A mass grave of 450 people

A Killing Tree against which the children were beaten to death

Not a single of the buildings of the concentration camp that was here 30 years ago stands today - as soon as the Khmer Rouge rule was over, the local people disassembled the site. Still, Choueng Ek makes a strong impression. Several places are marked off as graveyards for men, women, and children that were killed there; there are also displays with bones and clothes found at the site; there is a memorial Buddhist stupa filled with more than 5'000 human skulls; and-most disturbingly-there are occasional bones spread out over the site, which apparently still come out of the ground after heavy rains. It's difficult not to question the future of humanity after a visit to a site like this.
A memorial stupa at Choueng Ek

Skulls of victims of the Khmer Rouge regime

A tree twisting in pain 

Importantly, the site is well managed. It's kept clean and fenced off, there is an appropriate respectful and peaceful atmosphere, and the audio guide that is offered to tourists is very informative and objective. All in all, it's a gruesome but thought-provoking experience and, hence, I would recommend a visit to the Killing Fields of Choueng Ek.