Phnom Penh – The Killing Fields

Today we visited The Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre, which is better known as the Killing Fields. We knew this wasn’t going to be a pleasant visit, of course it’s not meant to be, but we didn’t realise just how much of an effect this was going to have on us. It’s not an easy thing to write about because there is no way any of us can imagine what happened.

When you reach the site the first thing you notice is the huge Memorial Stupa which is a very pretty and proud looking building. Although on closer inspection it holds a much more gruesome discovery. There are shelf upon shelf of human skulls and bones that were the victims of the Khmer Rouge.

For the tour of the site each person has a their own individual headset to listen to a guide narrated by an actual survivor of the Killing Fields. They have done this really well as the place is very quiet because everyone is listening and you can do it at your own pace. It’s very difficult to listen to some parts of it and of course you can tell that its difficult for the narrator to talk about.

There were also some first hand accounts from other survivors and even a Khmer Rouge soldier. It was incredibly sad walking around the site, even though the place is now green and lush so its looks quite pretty, you still get an eerie feeling walking through it. Their were numerous pits where 100’s of people had been killed and buried, in one of them there were over 450 people! It’s so shocking that these people were killed only because they were smart or had soft hands or even just because they owned a wristwatch! It’s absurd!

The most upsetting and disturbing part of the tour was the pit where women and children were killed. The Khmer Rouge didn’t shoot to kill as bullets were expensive, they literally bludgeoned people to death. They then killed the children and family members to prevent them from rising up for revenge in the future. I don’t even know how to put this into words because its so incredibly horrifying, the way they killed the children is the most inhumane and disgusting thing I have ever heard. They held the children by their legs and swung them against a tree repeatedly until death, they then tossed them into the pit at the side along with their naked mothers.

In the present day the Execution Tree is still standing and people have hung many bracelets from it as a sign of respect for the poor children and adults that were slain here. Unfortunately they still don’t have a full count of just how many people were killed here and they still keep finding new bones and teeth of victims as they work their way to the surface and can be seen mostly after a rainfall. I didn’t possibly think we would notice this ourselves but as we were walking down one of the paths there were bits of cloth and bones visible in the mud and foliage. It was just heart-breaking.

We were obviously very forlorn upon leaving the centre, we had a lot to reflect on and think about. We began to realise that the entire country of Cambodia was affected by this atrocity, it wasn’t just one race or religious group, it was absolutely everyone! Even though Pol Pots communist regime was meant to raise up the peasant society they were still treated like dirt. Anyone clever or intellectual was killed immediately to prevent any opposition. I honestly cannot believe that we don’t learn about what happened here in Cambodia. It happened from 1975-1979 so its not long ago at all! The leader of the Khmer Rouge Pol Pot died only in 1996 and some of the main leaders are still alive to this day, although they are on trial for their heinous crimes. We came to the realisation from this that because it is so incredibly recent many people of the middle and older generations that we see on the street will have been through the horrible ordeal themselves!

A beautiful setting holding a dark secret……there are more pits in this lake which have been submerged. The caretakers decided to leave these to rest rather than collecting them and placing them in the Memorial Stupa.

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