Tuesday, 19 March 2013

The Killing Fields - Part 2: a day of eye-opening, horrific history...

After the harrowing sites of S21, it was then on to The Killing Fields at Cheung Ek, a village about half an hour from Phnom Penh. Just to depress ourselves even more.

The ride was very rural and dusty. We arrived and got given our audio guides, which really helped explain the sights we were seeing, without it, I don't think you would truly grasp the horrific stories this place holds. You even get accounts from survivors. I'll try my best to explain as well as show in pictures...

The Killing Fields are a number of sites in Cambodia where large numbers of people were killed and buried by the Khmer Rouge regime, during its rule of the country from 1975 to 1979, immediately after the end of the Cambodian Civil War (1969–1975). Cambodian journalist Dith Pran coined the term "killing fields" after his escape from the regime. A 1984 film, The Killing Fields, tells the story of Dith Pran, played by another Cambodian survivor Haing S. Ngor, and his journey to escape the death camps.

It all began with a warning from the Angkar, the government of Cambodia under the regime. People receiving more than two warnings were sent for "re-education," which meant near-certain death. People were often encouraged to confess to Angkar their "pre-revolutionary lifestyles and crimes" being told that Angkar would forgive them and "wipe the slate clean." This meant being taken away to a place such as Tuol Sleng or Choeung Ek for torture and/or execution. The executed were buried in mass graves. In order to save ammunition, the executions were often carried out using poison, spades or sharpened bamboo sticks. In some cases the children and infants of adult victims were killed by having their heads bashed against the trunks of Chankiri trees. The rationale was "to stop them growing up and taking revenge for their parents' deaths." Some victims were required to dig their own graves; their weakness often meant that they were unable to dig very deep. The soldiers who carried out the executions were mostly young men or women from peasant families.

The best known monument of the Killing Fields is at the village of Choeung Ek. Today, it is the site of a Buddhist memorial to the victims. The memorial park at Choeung Ek has been built around the mass graves of many thousands of victims, most of whom were executed after they had been transported from the S-21 Prison in Phnom Penh. The utmost respect is given to the victims of the massacres through signs and tribute sections throughout the park. Many dozens of mass graves are visible above ground, many which have not been excavated yet. Commonly, bones and clothing surface after heavy rainfalls due to the large number of bodies still buried in shallow mass graves.

The Killing Fields:

The Lake where many were executed, drowned or left to die. The bodies here have not been exhumed and it is regarded as a burial ground.
 The mass graves of Women and Children, some without heads.

The Killing Tree - where children and babies were often held by their legs and beaten to death against...
This is the tree where they strung up loudspeakers, which would play Cambodian folk music to drown out the screams and noise from people being executed, so those waiting to be executed or coming in would not hear. This music was, for many, the last thing they would have heard. Standing there, imagining them blindfolded and then being killed from behind or having their throat slit, you cannot begin to imagine the fear they must have felt.

Inside the central memorial, 17 stories holds the bones and skulls exhumed from some of the mass graves, as a memorial to those who died and as a reminder to those still living, to never let this happen again.

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