9/03/2006

Cheung Ke Killing Fields



Cheung Ke, one of the many identified killing fields from around Cambodia, is located 14 kilometers from Phnom Penh. Of the up to 2,500,000 people killed by the Khmer Rouge from 1975-78, it is estimated that 20,000 perished at this site.
Shufang and I repeatedly asked our guide Kosal why the Khmer Rouge why would kill its own people. Each time he was evasive. First he said the Germans did the same thing during World War II. He also quoted Pol Pot: "Man can make religion. Religion cannot make man.¨ Then he told us that the Chinese had taught Pol Pot to do this. We thought that it seemed a bit unfair. But we knew from history how the Chinese had tried to invade Vietnam in order to protect Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge government after the Vietnamese army had crossed the border into Cambodia on Christmas Day, 1978. The Chinese failed miserably, losing 60,000 soldiers (two thousand more than the total Americans lost during the Vietnam War a.k.a. American War).
Kosal pointed out several things about the Cheung Ke killing fields: Although the remains of 8985 victims have been at least partially exhumed, another 12,000 remain in the 43 unopened mass graves. Many of these graves are now under an encroaching lake. So far, 129 mass graves have been located at Cheung Ke. One Australian, two French and six American journalists are amongst these victims.
According to Kosal, the skulls stacked up in the Memorial Charnel Pavilion (see above picture) are to be used as evidence against Pol Pot. When I asked what good it would do, seeing that Pol Pot had died almost a decade ago, Kosal explained that many of Pot's commanders were still alive. I pressed Kosal about why Pol Pot would kill his own people once again. He answered it was hard to deal with the question as most people did not know who Pol Pot was:
"Was he ugly?" I asked, wondering if it was psychological.
"Most Cambodians didn't know what he looked like. Take me for example. I had heard the name Pol Pot - it was terrible. But I had never seen a picture of him because there were not any available. Pol Pot was secretive. He was probably walking amongst us all the time and we didn't even know it. Recently, I have seen a picture of Pol Pot, of when he was around 50 years old. He was handsome."
"Who were his parents?"
"Farmers, but Pol Pot was a top student. He won a scholarship to study in France. He could speak French, Chinese and maybe English. Still, he hated intellectuals. He tricked them into coming back to Cambodia, sending out word that the country was now democratic. When they arrived at the Phnom Pehn Airport, he had them executed immediately. The Khmer Rouge wanted to kill anyone who was a doctor, teacher, lawyer or journalist. They wanted to get anyone who was related to doctors, teachers, lawyers or journalists as well."
"So farmers were safe."
"No, they were killed for stealing their own food. They were only given two ladles of rice soup per day. Then they had to work 12 or 14 hours. Anyway, after the students came home, the Khmer Rouge sealed the borders. The only planes that could fly here were from China, the friends of the Khmer Rouge."
"Does Pol Pot have kids?" I asked.
"One: She's about 14 years old."
"Where is she?"
"Thailand, or perhaps China."

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