March 21, 2009


A long-delayed UN-backed genocide tribunal of former Khmer Rouge leaders was just about to begin in Phnom Penh, when we arrived from Siem Reap so we felt a visit to the Tuol Sleng school unavoidable.

Named by the Khmer Rouge S-21, this former prison was where tens of thousands of "enemies" of the Khmer Rouge were imprisoned and tortured, the few survivors enduring three years of forced labour. The walls are lined with photographs and other documentation found by the Vietnamese when they captured the city in early 1979. It is, without a doubt, the most moving place I have ever been to and I think only a Nazi concentration camp could compare.

It is now a museum and an intensely sad place — many people leave the building crying. When we visited, a lawyer monitoring the genocide trial almost broke down and had to be helped out.
At a mountain near Battambang, there were cages of human skulls and bones. We were also taken to the precise cliff-like spots where victims were pushed over after they were bludgeoned to death.

My final destination of the day was the real life Killing Fields, Ek Choueng, in an area just outside of Phnom Penh. Not all of the 129 mass graves here were disinterred. It is believed that 17,000 men, women and children perished; the 8,000 skulls found during excavation are on display on shelves at the memorial (a stupa).

I can’t speak for P but I was glad to leave behind so many awful memories and try our luck in Laos.

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