Thursday, 9 June 2011

The Killing Fields (Choeng Ek)

Entrance to the Killing Fields

Today we went to the most famous site of 'The Killing Fields, or 'Choeng Uk'.  IF you have seen the film 'The Killing Fields, then you'll probably know a little bit about what happened here, and at dozen of other execution and labour camps across Cambodia during 1975-1979.  If you haven't seen the film or you don't know too much about it, i will do my best to explain.

Skulls of Murdered Men, Women and Children

The Khmer Rouge killed nearly two million Cambodians from 1975 to 1979, spreading like a virus from the jungles until they controlled the entire country, only to systematically dismantle and destroy it in the name of a Communism. Our tuk tuk driver who also acted as a very informative tour guide (not requested but deeply appreciated) explained that Pol Pol (Khmer Rouge leader) wanted to turn Cambodia, which he re-named Kampuchea, back to "Year Zero," and intellectuals, businessmen, Buddhists and foreigners were all purged. Often by execution but sometimes simply by working people to death in the fields.  They would work 15 hours a day and survive on a bowl of Gruel a day, once they had done their job, they were not longer needed and simply executed and buried in mass graves, a lot of them were buried alive.

Mass Grave of more than 100 women and children

It's hard to understand that what went on here only occurred 40 years ago.  Our driver lost his father to the killing fields when he was 6 years old and has since been back to the prison (see next blog) to find a picture of him; but couldn't find anything.  I cant imagine how that would feel.

The site isn't too big, but make no mistake, there are many many bodies here.  Most have been exhumed and re-buried or the remains placed in the Skull Crypt (top) but every now and again when the rain comes down and the soil turns, new remained pop up.  We spotted countless fragments of skull, bones, teeth, so you really have to watch your step.

Surface remains - possibly a leg bone.

What makes the experience even more chilling and tragic is that there are also clothing items on the surface which are still popping up.  Personally, this brought home the reality of the event as I could really make the human connection and only imagine what went on with the body inside those clothes.  Also, many of the clothes are small, so you can see that a child is buried here somewhere.

Child Clothing surfaced

There are also a lot of clothes which have been recovered and are now located in the Crypt underneath the skulls.  You can still see the dried bloodstains on certain garments.  I tried to imagine what their last moments were like as those drops of blood fell from whichever wound they had sustained - which we were told were likely axe wounds, trauma from bamboo sticks or other blunt objects.  The reason?  Bullets cost money, a life was worthless, save the money for something more important.  Tragic.

Bloodstained Clothing removed from exhumed bodies

There is a small museum towards the end of the tour which goes some way to explained what happened here and why it did.  Most of the dead were taken from a prison, which was converted from a Secondary School, called Tuol Sleng, better known as S:21 (See next blog).  The 'crimes' they had 'commited' ranged from 'speaking their mind', being intelligent, opposing the regime, or simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time - These were all punished by a long spell of backbreaking agricultural labour, followed by - if you were lucky - a quick execution followed by a mass burial; many times next to your own brothers, sisters, parents or children.

Remains of Human Head, Blunt Trauma to the back of the skull and above the right eye

I am glad that we got to experience this place.  It is regarded as sacred ground amongst the Cambodians of today and serves as a reminder of just how bad mans' inhumanity to man' really can be.  There is an eerie silence around the site and the expressions on peoples faces were a mixture of shock, sadness confusion and despair - something the Cambodian People are unfortunate to have to live with for the rest of their History.  Later on we are off to the prison, which still in it's original state, to see why this happened and how prisoner's were captured and detained.

Adam ~

Remains slowly unearthing

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