A Painful Khmer Rouge Past at Cheong Ek Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide(S-21), Cambodia

cheong ek killing fields
On a quiet green field approximately 15km south of Phnom Penh lays one of the most poignant reminders of Cambodia’s darkest chapter on its history.

Known as “The Killing Fields”, Cheong Ek is one of the many sites across the country that attest to the cruelty of the Khmer Rouge regime at the height of its power from 1975 to 1979.
killing field-s21
killing field-s21
killing field-s21
killing field-s21

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.
killing field-s21
killing field-s21

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”.
killing field-s21
killing field-s21

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.
killing field-s21
killing field-s21
killing field-s21
killing field-s21

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.
killing field-s21
killing field-s21
killing field-s21

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.

These faces are once a teacher, a doctor, an engineer, a worker, a peasant, a father, a student, a Buddhist monk- all exterminated together with their wife and children.
killing field-s21
killing field-s21
killing field-s21
killing field-s21

The prisoners are expected to abide the ten rules of S-21, a loose English translation can be found at the ground floor.
killing field-s21
killing field-s21

The upper floor rooms which are divided into small prison cells are kept as it is- a rusting iron bed frame and instruments used for torture.
killing field-s21

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.
killing field-s21

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