A sobering day today. We learned about Cambodia’s history. An attempt by Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot to form a Communist peasant farming society resulted in the deaths of 25 percent of the country’s population from starvation, overwork and executions.
When the Khmer Rouge marched into Phnom Penh, every single person living there was forcibly evacuated on foot into the countryside at gunpoint. As many as 20,000 died along the way.
Millions of Cambodians accustomed to city life were now forced into slave labor in Pol Pot’s “killing fields” where they soon began dying from overwork, malnutrition and disease, on a diet of one tin of rice (180 grams) per person every two days.
We visited Tuol Sleng, a school in Phnom Penh which had been converted into a jail. It was amazing to see the tiny cells they were forced to live in, but more so to see all their photographs displayed on boards – room after room of photos of people – most of whom had died there. If they didn’t die there, they were likely to die at the Killing Fields, which we went on to visit.
The judicial process of the regime, for minor or political crimes, began with a warning. People receiving more than two warnings were sent for “re-education,” which meant near-certain death. People were often encouraged to confess their “pre-revolutionary lifestyles and crimes” which meant being taken away for torture and then execution.
The executed were buried in mass graves, and in order to save ammunition, the executions were often carried out using poison, spades or sharpened bamboo sticks. In some cases the children and babies of adult victims were killed by having their heads bashed against the trunks of trees. The rationale was to stop them growing up and taking revenge for their parents’ deaths.
Whilst there we had a torrential downpour and my flip flops were covered in sandy mud. When I found a puddle to try to clean them off, the water was actually hot!
On the way back we stopped to take a photo of some trees reflected in the water.