Ruling with a policy of disease, starvation and intellectual cleansing, the Khmer Rouge or “Red Khmers” led Cambodia by arresting and executing almost every professionals and everyone with connections to both former and foreign governments.
Within four years of ruling the country, more than a million people were executed creating a total of 20,000 mass graves. The regime ruthlessness knows no boundaries, killing anyone that they deem as treat to their reign even women and innocent children.
I can still feel the chills on my bone whenever I recall that eerie sound on the audio guide playing the music used by Khmer Rouge to drown out the noise of crying babies and kids beaten and executed at this “Magic Tree”.
At the middle of the Cheong Ek memorial is a Buddhist Stupa.
Inside the stupa are glass slides containing more than 5,000 human human skulls excavated at Cheong Ek mass graves alone.
Looking at these remains now arranged solely based on assumed age and gender, I can’t help but wonder about them- who they are, what are their names, what do they like to do on a similar sunny afternoon in Phnom Penh and what have they done to deserve such faith.
Not to far Cheong Ek is Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide or formerly known as Security Prison-21 (S-21).
A former high school compound (Chao Ponhea Yat High School), Khmer Rouge had converted these five building complex into a prison and interrogation facility, said to be the biggest in Cambodia. It is believe that within these walls is where all the brutality began prior taking the prisoners to Cheong Ek for execution.
Now converted to a genocide museum, the walls of Tuol Sleng are lined up of black and white photographs of estimated 17,000 prisoners, the very same files recovered from Khmer Rouge extensive records after the fall of the regime.
It makes me wonder how another human being is capable of so much hatred, so capable to do so much harm towards another being, just for the sake of a twisted ideology and greediness for power.
I visited both Cheong Ek and Tuol Sleng Museum without any concrete knowledge about Cambodia or Khmer Rouge history but what I learned that day (with the help of audio guide) is so profound that it changes my outlook about Cambodia- a place beyond more than just a touristy place to cross on the list.