9/11/2006

Tuol Sleng (S-21)


Tuol Sleng was a high school (Ponhea Yat) built in 1962 in downtown Phnom Penh. 12 years later, on April 17, it was converted to an interrogation center with its classrooms serving as cells. Prisoners were processed at this 600 by 400 meter compound before either being released or transported to one of the countries 19,940 killing fields. All kinds of torture took place on the campus. Some detainees were drawn and quartered, hung by their arms, electrocuted, drowned, filled up with water and then stomped upon. Others had their fingernails extracted, genitalia stung by scorpions, nipples removed and toes smashed. Conditions were so bad that the upper floors of Tuol Sleng were in need of barbed wire - to lace the windows and balconies tight. Too many of the inmates were jumping to their deaths.


Our guide Sotha told us that the interrogators were usually children. The Khmer Rouge had great use for little boys; they felt little boys could not conceal lies well. Their pictures are on display along with those of many of the victims. On both sides, individuals range from infant-size up.

Shufang asked Sotha how the Khmer Rouge could massacre its own people, he replied that he didn't know about that stuff. He only knew how to talk about Tuol Sleng. But he emphasized a Chinese hand in the matter. When I told Sotha about one of my friends from France of Chinese background who had suffered as a child in Cambodia during this time, he was even more adamant: "I am 35 years old," he said, "so I can remember when the Khmer Rouge emptied Phnom Penh. They had guns and vehicles from the Chinese. Actually, I traveled to the countryside in big ugly Chinese truck!"

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