Today we did one of the main ‘attractions’ in the capital. Not a particular fun or pleasant experience but an important one as it happened within living memory 1975-1979!! Only read if you’re interested and don’t want to be depressed
Cambodia may conjure up images of unkempt children or Angelina Jolie wandering around temples in hot pants but it’s more recent history was slightly darker. We are no historians but we’ll try to summarise events.
After the french left the region in tatters and disgrace the country had plunged into chaos. Whilst the Americans were bombing neighbouring Vietnam (& Cambodia & Laos secretly) Cambodia had its own civil war. A nasty little man called Pol Pot who was a teacher by trade rose to power with his merry band of miscreants. He believed that the country should be based on simple farming and the peasants should essentially rule in a communist state. The Khymer Rouge party was born.
Pol Pot (or Brother Number 1) soon discovered that anyone with half a brain cell over the age of 12 who heard his plan quickly decided it was really, really stupid.
Sadly Pol Pot then did the unthinkable. In secret to the rest of the world, he set out to systematically arrest, force confessions from then execute anyone who would oppose him. First was the opposition, then lecturers, (ironically) teachers, doctors, lawyers then anyone who could speak another language... Even those who had ‘soft’ hands or wore glasses were targeted for fake confessions.
In order to prevent revenge plots he also killed their wife/husband and even their children and babies. In total 3 million people were estimated to have been killed - about 1 in 4.
S21 is a former high school and would look like any other were it not for the barbed wire fences. Inside detainees were held, photographed and documented, tortured (sometimes to death) until eventually ‘relocated’ to another site. S21 has room after room of the beds humans were tied to and electrocuted/water boarded or even had scorpions inserted into their orifices. Truest disgusting.
‘Relocation’ happened at secret at night. Prisoners were put into a truck, driven to a nearby village and then in order to conserve bullets they were hacked to death with a variety of garden and farming tools. This killing field had around 20,000 victims. Of note was a tree that still stands, that the guards would swing children by their legs against, smashing their brains on the bark before tossing them in a pit.
Pol Pot died in the sleep in 1998 from ‘heart failure’ in Thailand the day he heard he was to be handed over to be tried for war crimes. Many others of the Khymer Rouge remain in prison today.
These events broke Cambodia and left it 30 years behind its neighbours. Worth a visit if you’re ever in the area