One of the cells, with photos of prisoners as they were found
Even though the notorious Khmer Rouge, which ruthlessly ruled the Cambodian people from 1975 to 1979 had been removed from power since the Vietnamese invasion of 1979, its key members continued resisting up to 1996. It has only been 10 years since their leader, Pol Pot, the man responsible for the death of 1-3 million people (estimates vary), died and the country is only at the very start of repairing itself. The United Nations Development Program's 2005 Human Development Index ranks Cambodia 131 out of 177 countries in terms of quality of life. This comes as no great surpise considering the country's recent history. Civil war, U.S. supported coups and carpet bombings, a ruthless communist regime and warfare between Khmer Rouge bandits and the Vietnamese.
The current government is not without its critics, corruption seems to be a way of life and the poorest of the poor are always on the losing side.
The gallows. Prisoners were hung upside down - their heads were kept under water
History has not been on the side of Cambodia for a long, long time. And all this is more than evident in Phnom Pehn. This city is light years away from the neon lights of Siem Reap
and offers the traveller a good opportunity to think. About the past, but, most importantly, about the present and the future.
Probably a main aspect of a visit to Phom Penh is that of education; about the crimes of the past and those of the present. Today was spent visiting the Tuol Sleng prison and the Cheung Ek killing fields. These are two of the most important sites documenting the crimes of the Democratic Party of Kampuchea, commonly known as the Khmer Rouge. Tuol Sleng, a school turned into prison, is where thousands of civilians were kept under accusation that they were plotting against the regime.
People were brought here from different parts of Cambodia, tortured and eventually sent to the fields outside the city where they were beaten to death, to avoid using "precious" bullets. The arrests began with intellectuals, teachers and doctors but by the end of the decade the Khmer Rouge was arresting, torturing and killing its own people. Anyone that has read "1984" by George Orwell will have no doubt that the Big Brother was here in Cambodia, in his most evil form.
On our way to Cheung Ek, it is hard to cope with the thought that only one kilometre away is Stung Meanchey, a rubbish dump where hundreds of adults and kids live and work trying to find something valuable to recycle among the scraps, earning a daily average of 0.5 U.S. dollars.