For travellers from all over the world Phnom Penh is on their bucket list of places to go because of its rich and recent history; The Cambodian Genocide. ‘The Killing Fields’ and ‘S21 Prison’ in the city of Phnom Penh have now become memorials for some of the two million civilians lost in Pol Pot’s, and the Khmer Rouge’s attempt at reconstructing Cambodia, based on the communist model of Mao’s China.
The Khmer Rouge is an extremist group of communists who gained over 70,000 recruits as a result of their president, Lon Nol’s, relationship with America. Pol Pot was their leader. In 1975 Lon Nol was overthrown by the Khmer Rouge. Their plan to reconstruct Cambodia was based around eliminating anyone who was against a communist rule, which in their opinion was anyone with an education. They shut down all schools, universities, hospitals, factories, and armies were killed off, along with most educated and religious civilians.
The remainder of those who were not killed were put into unpaid labour camps where they survived off of basic rations. The long hours and rations were impossible to live on which lead to the deaths of thousands of people. However their deaths were written down by the Khmer Rouge, as the result of natural illnesses, but their photographs shown in the ‘Prison S21’ tell a different story. British Tourist Katie Tindall who visited these memorials said: “There are pictures of people who died in the prison who were clearly malnourished and starved to death”.
Vietnam overthrew the Khmer Rouge in 1978. Since then ‘The Killing Fields’ and ‘Prison S21’ have been discovered, and made into memorials for the more than two million killed during Pol Pot’s reign. ‘The Killing Fields’ is the burial grounds for some of the two million killed where rags of clothing and bones are seen in the ground. Through a head set you are told about the history of the genocide and what the killing fields were used for. “You can listen to survivor’s stories of their awful time there and how they lost their loved ones. Some of them found their family since being released and these stories really pull on your heart strings”, Katie explained. To pay respects you can visit the memorial building which is filled with skulls and bones.
‘Prison S21’ is where many of the innocent civilians were put on trial and killed for crimes they did not commit. Here you see their small cells with chains on the wall and blood stained floors, and look at pictures of some of those who died here. There is also a cinema room where video’s are shown of people who were apart of the Khmer Rouge, who talk about how they have no regrets of their actions, and deny being a part of it despite people having proof of their involvement today.
Most of Cambodia’s educated people were executed which has had a big affect on the revival of their economy. Today Cambodia is still recovering from the actions of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge.