I was disturbed quite a bit as we visited the infamous S21 Camp that the Khymer Rouge has set up in a school .So disturbed that all the glamour and affluence of the Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda meant nothing to me and infact came through as meaningless symbols. This even on seeing the richest image of the Buddha decked out in gold and diamonds and a large emerald statute of the Buddha, again worth a fortune.The Royal Palace and the surrounding gardens had all the grandeur and affluence one associates with royalty but as I said all this had no meaning in the face of the cruelty that seems to have taken place in the school turned concentration camp and now converted into what is called the Genocide Museum.
I had read a lot about the cruelty and babaric killings of large numbers of people , reported to be in excess of one million ,by the Khymer Rouge during the period from 1975 to’79. I wondered why it should have happened ,and at times felt that the numbers may be exaggerated or that counter propoganda machines were discrediting the unpopular communist regime by the traditional capitalist rivals .Killing and cruelty however can never be condoned no matter what the scale and by who ever perpectuates it.
I had read reports of the Cambodian civil war and on some of the thinking behind the Khymer Rouge forcing city dwellers and interlectuals to embark on forced marches into the rural areas to work on collective farming activities.I read that the Khymer Rouge believed that the true working classes was in rural villages and not in the cities.I read too that the Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai had warned the leaders of the Khymer Rouge from pushing through too quickly with agrarian reforms with out also taking the intersts of the industrial working class into account.The Khymer Rouge how ever felt that their form of communism was the best suited for Cambodia , that they had the organisation capability to push through reforms and that they would show the world what true communism was all about.No write up could ever explain why so much killing was ever needed.
We walked into the erstwhile class rooms now empty and mute witnesses to what ever atrocities had been committed in them .The rooms now just had an iron cot and nothing else other than impements to ankle cuff the unfortunate detainees.In some of the rooms were panel on panels of photos of Detainees , distinguished by the number tag hanging around their necks ; and like wise photos of the Guards and Interogators who looked determined and thoroughly brain washed in marked contrast to the Detainees.So very sad that a group of people should be so cruel to their own country men.
The most disturbing pictures were those of Detainees with fear and hopelessness writ in their eyes and also even more appalling were photos of Detainees who had been cruelly and bruitaly treated .It’s so very strange that the perpectuators of such atrocities should have kept such vivid documentation of the cruelty they had imparted on hapless people.Human faces tell their tale of suffering in a manner no words could ever hope to explain.I took photos of some of these photos that most vividly brought out the brutality that seem to have been carried out in this camp.I would place these disturbing pictures on this blog only as a personal condemnation of the cruelty that took place here and and an endictment of the Regime that allowed it to happen.
At the entrance to the Genocide Museum is a simple hall with a message asking visitors to spend a quiet moment in memory of the people who suffered and lost their livesat this concentration camp.The message asked visitors to sit in silence and respectfully in homage for those who had suffered and died .Like several visitors we also sat a while in silent contemplation .I did feel extremely sad during the moments we sat in this hall.The other visitors , mostly from Europe sat in silence and respectfully .There were a few local Cambodians who sprawled around talking and possibly gossiping in complete disregard for the sanctity of this simple memorial for the unfortunate Detainees.
In the few days we were in Cambodia ,I didnt see any evidence of people disturbed or hurt by these attrocities or any evidence of efforts to punish those guilt of these crimes or even to soul search and put in place institutions and checks and balances to prevent such cruelty from occuring again.Maybe all this has aleady taken place over the last twenty years or so and the young people of today have learned to move on with their lives.What however I didnt like was that the Pol Pot killings are seen as a great tourism opportunity and tourist interest sales of books and DVDs etc of the Pol Pot Regime were being pushed so much.