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KR killings more violent and systematic?

Henri Locard, an academic from the Université Lumière Lyon 2 in France,

has conducted research on the Khmer Rouge prison system during their years in

power. During four trips to Cambodia between 1991 and 1995 he visited

approximately 100 former prisons in every province in Cambodia except Preah

Vihear and interviewed about 400 witnesses including "base people" who lived

near the prisons, ex-prisoners and ex-Khmer Rouge who were part of the prison

bureaucracy. This article is excerpted from a longer paper delivered at a

conference in Paris earlier this year.

IN the introduction to his

biography of Pol Pot, Brother Number One, David Chandler noted that "In a sense,

what happened in Cambodia, although more intense, was standard operating

procedure in countries whose politics Pol Pot admired."

I should wish to

somewhat change the perspective of this proposition: "although much of what

happed in Cambodia under Pol Pot was modelled on the countries whose politics he

admired, it took an intensity that was not standard procedure in other Communist

regimes, but was distinctly more repressive and murderous."

Was it

"standard operating procedure" in other Communist countries to brutally empty

every single town and rusticate some 50 percent of the population? To

collectivize not only all property, but almost all personal belongings,

including cooking utensils, and to abolish money? To engineer the strictest

control of food - causing unprecedented starvation in a counrtry where food

would soon be plentiful? To abolish overnight all standard methods of education

and eradicate every manifestation of religion, from Buddhism to the ancient

worships of ethnic minorities of the Northeast, together with all traditional

feast and ceremonies? To herd the entire population - again, even ethnic

minorities of the Northeast whose ways of life had hardly changed in the past

2,000 years - into people's communes that operated more like concentration

camps? To not only "crush to bits" all real or imagined "enemies" of the

Revolutionary State, but probably as much as a quarter of the population, in

only three years, eight months and 20 days? Finally to establish throughout the

country prison-extermination centres - about which so little is known, or can be

known, simply because most prisoners were exterminated - this being totally

outside any form of legal system?

It is well-known that people died

either of starvation, disease and overwork, or summary executions. The third

mode of liquidation is less well-documented, although it seems on a more massive

scale: the prison-torture and extermination centre.

From the fatal period

between April 17, 1975 to January 7, 1979, practically the entire Khmer

population had become political prisoners of the ominous Angkar.

This was

the Organization, invisible and ubiquitous like a god - Pol Pot's (Bong Thom or

"Big Brother", as he was referred to in the "Inner Party") most brilliant


The Cambodians lost all civil liberties: overnight there was

no law. In the collectives, in the re-education camps, on all the great

worksites and on all "fronts" of production, men at arms - quite often

adolescents - treated the population like convicts.

It is no less

well-known that in Tuol Sleng - called S21 (S for Santesokh or Security) in Pol

Pot's days - Phnom Penh's sinister execution centre, more than 20,000 victims

were liquidated after written confessions had been extorted under the fiercest

tortures. It was mainly the centre for cadres of the regime or "criminals"

guilty of "heavy" political faults.

But what is less well-known is that

Tuol Sleng was only the apex of the pyramid, the nerve centre of a sophisticated

network of jails that enmeshed the entire territory.

S21 might have been

the most barbaric prison but it was, alas, neither the largest, nor the one

where the greatest number of victims were executed.

A few srok (district)

or dambon (zone) jails were bigger and were used as mass execution centres.

Perhaps up to 30 or 40,000 people might have been put to death on the same spot,

in the course of that fearful regime.

The following short survey is based

on the published life stories of Khmers who had lived under the Khmer Rouge, on

the analysis of contemporary official documents and radio programmes, but above

all, on the interrogation of hundreds of ex-victims throughout


These however are only first tentative conclusions, since

available Khmer Rouge written archives are so few. We know that the invading

Vietnamese army, shortly after their takeover of the Cambodian capital, on

January 7, 1979, shipped off most government archives to Hanoi.


these are returned to Phnom Penh or made available to researchers, conclusions

as to the methods and the responsibilities of the genocide are incomplete.

Besides, because of the presence throughout Cambodia (during the KR period) of

numerous Chinese experts and the close-knit relationships between the leaders of

both revolutions, it is not until State archives in Beijing are also accessible

that the wider story of those baleful years will be fully


Finally, I have not been able to collect much information on

the exact role of North Koreans in Democratic Kampuchea.

The Prisons Extension of the system

Contrary to what most people have

been led to believe, the normal form of the Polpotian repression was not summary

execution, but the arrest and processing of the suspects through a secret but

extensive prison network.

In a striking scene of the film, The Killing

Fields, we see a few chained prisoners driven past the camera before members

of the collective, then we hear the reports of guns. I am not saying that such

scenes never took place in Pol Pot's Cambodia - there were a number of public

executions, some of them paticularly gruesome - but they were the exception

rather than the norm.

Many witnesses claim they never saw anyone

executed before their eyes.

This must be quite true.

If summary

executions are said to have been so widespread, it is because institutions such

as prisons were extremely secret. Therefore when people were arrested at night,

it was automatically assumed they were immediately finished off. Besides,

officials of the regime, in particular after its fall in 1979, denied there was

any genocide on their part. If some people vanished, it was because overzealous,

petty local cadres had given vent to revenge after years of suffering in the

civil war.

Besides, for the Khmer Rouge leadership most casualties were

ascribed to American bombing. The figure of 600,000 dead (with as many injured)

was first written in chalk by Pol Pot himself on the blackboard of the large

lecture hall of the Phnom Penh Institute of Technology during a meeting of

representatives of Angkar from all the districts in early June 1975. (The figure

came completely out the blue, but has been repeated by most analysts in later


As the regime developed its repression, so did Pol Pot's

rhetoric: by 1978, the figure had grown to "800,000 killed, and more than

240,000 others maimed" adding that this represented 12 percent of the

population. The same Pol Pot, in an interview with a journalist from Swedish

Television on August 24 of the same year proclaimed: "In fact, in the 1970-75

war, U.S. imperialism and its lackeys massacred more than 1.4 million


Dr. Marek Sliwinski reckoned that some 240,000

Cambodians were killed during the civil war, and this includes the numerous

civilians and Republican soldiers killed by the revolutionaries themselves. In

other words, the regime did not kill anyone, but its "enemies" did.


leaders also claimed that those responsible for the vast number of deaths

between 1970 and 1980 - the decade being always lumped together - were

Vietnamese infiltrators, apart from the "U.S. imperialism and its lackeys". In

other words Angkar is spotless.

Three main waves of repression

In the course of this very short-lived regime, there were three big waves of


It is well-known that on the victory of the revolutionaries

more representatives of the old governing classes were decimated in the first

few weeks of the regime than in China after Mao's triumph. The crack-down on all

those who could be identified as personalities belonging to the previous

administration - civil or military (even in the East Zone) along with their

families for the most prominent figures, was ruthless: all army officers and all

heads of department in the civil service - national or local, along with their


This first purge was almost entirely outside the prison system

proper: victims were massacred, rarely witnessed, but normally secretly on the

outskirts of villages or in nearby forests. All this is


Then in the latter part of 1975 and early 1976, thanks

to denunciations or the candid confessions of interested parties themselves,

remaining Republican military personnel, civil servants, professional classes

were singled out for arrest. Once they reached the villages after being driven

from all Cambodian cities, the so-called "new people", or "17th April" had to

write again and again their autobiographies, as Vietminh then Chinese mentors of

the Khmer Rouge must have instructed them. Many were taken to prisons along with

intellectuals and recalcitrant Buddhist monks. This was the second wave, as the

network of prisons (kuk in Khmer, or Munty Santesokh, or Security Office)

was being established throughout the country in the first few months of the


The third wave started in 1976 and swept through all classes of

the new society, not only ex-townsfolk, but also so-called the "base-people"

from the countryside and the Khmer Rouge cadres and military personnel

themselves. All categories of the revolutionary society were soon engulfed in

the maelstrom of repression as the regime got more deranged and saw "enemies",

Khmang, everywhere.

Definition of the Polpotian prison

Locking up a significant percentage of the population in specific

institutions beyond the people's communes took on an extension unknown in other

Communist countries. Enemies "were never simply arrested and shot :

authorities had first to obtain confessions which would justify their arrest,

and thus confirm the omniscience and justice of Angkar in arresting them,"
as Martin Stuart-Fox and Bunheang Ung rightly explained in Murderous


The rationale of the system was not just to finish off

suspects, but to expose and dismantle so-called khsae, meaning "ropes" or

"plots" of conspirators against Angkar. The accused therefore had to talk, to

speak the whole truth, even if this "truth" had to be invented under torture, or

threat of torture. Victims were usually arrested shortly after nightfall and

often on false pretexts to quell all forms of resistance - "Angkar needs your

services elsewhere ..." They were taken to the local interrogation center

for a coule of days or directly to the district prison.

The Khmer Rouge

prison consists of two distinct elements - both absent from the Nazi

concentration camps, for instance shackles and interrogation, confessions under

torture (or threat of torture).

Although some prisoners were also chained

in Mao's prisons, and the Polpotists must have learnt the technique of the

khnohs (iron rings sliding along iron bars, with a lock at both ends, into which

detainees had to slip their ankles) from the Vietminh, neither China nor Vietnam

used shackles quite so systematically as the Khmer Rouge. The Vietminh used to

tie their prisoners to iron bars too. Prisoners could be brought on foot, two,

three, four or more tied together, accompanied by armed soldiers with bicycles,

by carloads, or packed into jeeps or even Chinese lorries.

Arriving in

the deep of night, the new prisoners were invariably tied to a collective khnoh

holding from four to five to 15-20 victims. If the bar was really long, there

were special holes in the walls to enable it to slide sideways. Not until dawn

could a prisoner distinguish where he or she had been taken to, but often it was

to a pagoda or a school, sometimes a smaller official building or a purpose

built, oblong hut.

Except when taken away for interrogation and

eventually execution, prisoners would not leave the khnohs for the first couple

of months, either for exercise or hygiene. Starvation and disease would then

reduce them to living corpses and take their toll.

The universal diet was

bâbâ riov, very clear watery rice, two servings a day. Some died in the night

and their corpses removed in the morning. A few became "free prisoners", that is

free to do hard labour in the day time, while often returning to their shackles

in the night, or taken to another building where prisoners were no longer


The purpose of imprisonment was twofold: first, as in Maoist China,

to obtain confessions to crimes and submission to Angkar; secondly, the betrayal

of everyone with whom the accused had been associated.

Yet there were two

major differences between the Chinese model and Polpotist policy: a

significantly higher proportion of the population in Cambodia was put in jail,

and the turnover and death rate was also much higher, for the very simple reason

that most detainees died within three months.

Few were detained for a

year or longer. The percentage of liberations, which could be 20 to 30 percent

in the smaller prisons, was reduced to nothing in Tuol Sleng: the higher a

prison was situated in the hierarchy of goals, the less likely were the inmates

to survive.

The proportions between the living and the dead in China or

Vietnam were, I believe, the reverse. In theory however, the Polpotian prison

follows the Maoist pattern of reform of the minds (xuexi) of all the "enemies of

the revolution", followed by reform by hard labour (laogai). The Maoist xuexi,

"study", has been literally translated by the Polpotists as rien saut, "study

session" or Kâsang khluon "re-construction of the self".

As Jean-Luc

Domenach clearly explains in his study of Mao's Gulag, "... each 'criminal' is a

student who is taught the 'theory' that will enable him to 'grasp' the full

extent of his guilt and to construct a new 'world view'. Xuexi comprises two

things: theoretical study itself, and training to acquire the right 'frame of


That was what Khmer Rouge leaders were probably taught by their

Maoist mentors in Peking or in Phnom Penh. Unfortunately for the Khmers, those

in charge of implementing this model were so ignorant, sometimes even

illiterate, that the Maoist understudies were quite unable to perform the

essentially intellecual and bureaucratic task of sorting out, going through and

investigating scores, hundreds or even thousands of life-stories or

interrogators' reports.

In the prevailing atmosphere of revolutionary

fervour - the "Super Great Leap Forward" together with the Cultural Revolution

at one and the same time - and even terror, there was no time for the subtle

re-moulding of the mind and other Maoist niceties.

Besides, Polpotists

did not really believe that "the New People" were really amenable to reform.

The pattern was so erratically applied that it ran amok and transformed

itself into an enormous killing machine that was continuously gaining impetus,

until it raced out of all control in the last days of the regime.

For all

the inhabitants of Pol Pot's Cambodia, the fateful rien saut would be synonymous

with death, since it was the routine euphemism for liquidation. This was not

necessarily so, for some were liberated, but often not sent back to their

original collectives.

In fact, there was no real re-education in Pol

Pot's prisons: no party documents were ever passed round. What was demanded was

utter submission to the will of the authorities, complete debasement in front of

Angkar and admission to one's guilt. The instrument was sheer terror, preceded

by very little coaxing. The method was again the Maoist one: self-accusation in

the provoatterup, that is personal life-stories or confessions. The endless

writing of one's life-story had started in the first few weeks of the regime.

Endless, because, as in Ho Chi Minh's Vietnam, the so-called "New People" or

people who had not rallied to the revolution before the victory, and therefore

were by definition suspect, had to write and re-write an indeterminate number of

times their autobiographies in the collectives. These were checked and

investigations could lead to more arrests, and this is how the vicious circle of

confessions and executions snowballed from the smallest prison in the

countryside to Tuol Sleng in Phnom Penh. Victims there had to give names and

confess that they had been plotting with the aid of foreign secret services -

the CIA or the KGB, or both at the same time - or to Khmer opponents on the Thai

border, and more and more with the hated Vietnamese.

The use of violence

and torture could vary and in the provincial prisons, the accused did not

usually write new life stories, but answered questions.

In the small

prisons, the interrogator also took notes, and would rise to hit (or threaten to

hit) the accused, squatting in front of him, with his arms tied behind his back.

In the larger prisons, summaries would be made, and at least two soldiers in

charge of tortures. In the main prisons, three typed summaries would be made -

two for Angkar Lœu (the Organization up above) and one to be kept in the prison

archives. Angkar Lœu took the decision of liberation, change of regime, transfer

or execution.

In Pol Pot's Kampuchea, no-one was ever read an act of

accusation; the first question any detainee would always be asked was: "Tell us

why you are here ?" If one was detained it was assumed that one had committed

crimes against Angkar, and interrogators could never nurse doubts about the

validity of Angkar's decisions. Once all information had been extracted, the

accused could be liquidated. Apart from the very, very few who were actually

able to run away (in which case all those near the fugitive(s) were massacred),

only two categories escaped death: totally ingenuous prisoners who strenuously

denied any involvement in any rebellious plot and after investigations in their

collective, and those ingenious enough to perform a technical task of use to

their jailors.

The average Khmer Rouge prison was composed of several

buildings - often some for men and some for women and children, or some for

"heavy" prisoners, or some for "light" offenders. All men were shackled, but

women sometimes were not, while children never were. One can assume terror

riveted them to the spot. Children and adolescents could be rounded up in

special detention centres, like the prison for children from ten to 15 at Anlong

Veng, Andong Toeuk district, Koh Kong province. One very specific characteristic

of the Polpotian prison was that entire families were put in prison, even

pregnant women who gave births to babies that would soon die of starvation:

"When you pull out weeds, you must extirpate all its roots", a Khmer Rouge

slogan said.

Sickly and starving children, hanging around their chained

parents must have been one of the most dismal sights of those dens of horror.

They would be continuously moaning for more food in front of helpless parents.

Sometimes they were just left behind, after their parents had been executed, to

pass round the sanitary tin or the loathsome bâbâ at meal times.


was always one interrogation center, usually some distance away to deaden the

shrieks of victims. There was of course one kitchen, one or several lodgings for

the military. Often - particularly in the precincts of pagodas - there were a

couple of small and often darker cells for very "heavy" faults. If inmates

graduated into the category of "free" prisoners, they would have to work hard in

the daytime. They were not always shackled at night. Only those who had to

perform technical tasks would receive special treatment, like extra food but

then they could stay an indeterminate number of months or even years in the same

prison, as they had become indispensable to the running of the


Among scores of prisons, we can take the example of Tuol

Marénh, in Kompong Trabek district, which was the main prison of zone 24 in Prey

Veng province.

It is now an empty small plateau in the middle of

rice-fields. All that remains today (June 1994) is a soil strewn with tiny bits

of bones (most have been eaten by cows or dogs), numerous teeth, and infinite

number of shreds of nylon cloth, the remains of the victims' clothes-and one big

lone iron khnoh.

There were six wooden buildings there in Pol Pot's days

- five for men and one for women. The number of prisoners was five to 700.

According to P.S. (born 1950), who spent a whole year there from June 1976, the

number of citizens brought to the prison kept rising, from some 30 a week to


The total of people executed exceeded 10,000, since several

thousands were killed each year, before the wholesale massacres of 1978 in the



There were three ways of dying in the Khmer Rouge prisons: firstly during

interrogation, or immediately after; secondly in the khnohs, usually after a

certain number of weeks, mainly from starvation; thirdly, at regular intervals,

prison officials would come in with lists of inmates marked for execution.

Often, a large number of prisoners were executed when the prison was

full and space had to be provided for new captives, brought sometimes in

carloads by Chinese Zil lorries.

The executions and disposal of corpses

usually took place very close to the prison.

The Khmer Rouge's favourite

mode of execution - both expeditious and ammunition-saving - was to bring the

victim, blindfolded, with his hands tied behind his back to the brink of a pit

or a ditch. He then had to squat, bend his head and he was battered to death

with a pickaxe, a hoe, or any stick on the nape of the neck.

If the jail

was close to a river or a lake, bodies could simply be flung into the water, as

in the islands along the Mekong or by Tonle Bati lake. Bodies would fall into

pits of all sizes; some could be quite deep and wide, often dug by the victims

themselves. Sometimes, there were nothing but a series of individual graves.

Often corpses were carefully put at the foot of fruit trees, for the

Khmer Rouge claimed their "enemies" could be put to good use even after death.

They considered the human body as such a perfect fertilizer as to be left to

decompose in paddy-fields. For instance, in Mong Russey district, Russey Krang

commune, at a place called Munty Kuk 32, or "prison-office 32", there were

thousands of deportees in the area, from Phnom Penh, and later from Prey Veng

and Svay Rieng provinces. During the 1978 rainy seasons, so many had been killed

and put in the paddy fields, that seedlings were planted out among human remains

covering several hectares. The yield was higher in those four to five hectares

of burial ground.

Wherever mass graves have been discovered after 1979,

particularly around pagodas, one can be certain there was a sizeable district

prison nearby.

The inconvenience was that some victims were not dead, but

had fainted or fallen into a coma when they were interred. The number of people

buried alive must have been horrendous. I have found several witnesses who were

"raised from the dead", waking up the next morning and extracting themselves

from corpses, when they were put at the top of the mass grave. I think in

particular of two women at Phnom Basset, north of Phnom Penh, who, in the

glimmer of dawn, hailed each other by the name of "Ghosts!", each imploring the

other to cease haunting these dismal fields. How many were stiffled to death

underground? In Sisophon, those put to death were so innumerable, that, on one

occasion, bulldozers, I was told (but was this progaganda of the Heng Samrin

regime?) were used simultaneously to bury them.

At Kralanh, once all the

vast mass graves had been filled several times, it was decided to add paddy

husk, and to burn bodies in three pits continuously operating in rotation. A

large plank was thrown across the pit: the victims fell directly on the corpses

when they were hit to death on the nape of the neck. Pits were extinguished in

turns and carefully emptied of all the ashes to be scattered in the nearby paddy

fields. It was in those regions, where the citizens of Phnom Penh had been

deported en masse, that wholesale executions on the largest scale took place -

perhaps up to 30 to 40,000 victims on the same spot. On the way to Pailin, near

Battambang, stands Phnom Sampov, a sacred chalk hill sheer above the plain,

famous for its caves where hermits lived: there, the sacrilegious folly of the

Khmer Rouge reached to peak.

Driven out of a nearby prison, detainees, always with their hands tied behind

their backs, were made to climb up hundreds of steps leading up to an unfinished

sanctuary. There, at the top of the hill, before a vast expanse of land, they

were immolated to Angkar - the latter day Moloch. Four executioners held each

victim by one limb, his face turned towards the soil, while a fifth would cut

his throat to collect his blood in a waterproof tank. While attempting to leap

towards the utopian society of the future, the Polpotists merely rediscovered

the horrors of past ages long ago. No-one could tell me what those immolators

did with the precious liquid thus collected.

One final disturbing

observation is that, since the introduction of Hinduism and Buddhism in the

early part of our millenium, the Khmers had made it their habit to incinerate

their dead. The Polpotists had no time for funeral rituals at all and usually

laid their victims in shallow graves precisely as is still the habit of

non-Indianized ethnic minorities of the distant periphery.

The geography of the prison network

Contrary to my expectation (having read so much about regional variations),

and again apart from the Northeast, I found that a closely interconnected

three-tier prison network crisscrossed and enmeshed the entire


There was first an infinite number of smaller detention

centers at the level of the khum, or commune, some the equvalent of our police

stations, where suspects were detained and interrogated for a short period of


Others could be purpose-built rectangular huts for a few scores of

inmates. The khnohs were often of wood or a combination of wood and iron; the

very existence of these institutions could be temporary: at one stage, all

detainees could be liberated, and the prison closed.

The next tier is the

district. There was at least one in each of the some 150 districts or so of the

country. These institutions were permanent and had been established everywhere

in the early months of the regime, while others had been opened from 1972-73 in

the areas controlled by the revolutionaries. The inmates were usually numbered

in the hundreds, up to around one thousand.

Many more populated

districts, as in Svay Rieng, Kompong Thom or Takeo provinces, for instance, had

up to two or three and even four prisons per district. These were often in

pagodas or sometimes in schools, with obstructed windows; but, if prisons were

further away from inhabited areas, they could be vast purpose-built structures

in wood and cane, containing several buildings on the verge of the


The third kind of prison was the zone prison - there were some

thirty zones under the KR, provinces having disappeared from their

administrative reorganization of the territory. In both the district and zone

prisons, KR civilian and military cadres themselves became more and more

numerous. For instance, Munty Sang (an ex-teachers Training College offered by

the USA), was the prison of zone 15, near Tonle Bati, not far from the capital.

The number of inmates could easily have reached one thousand, so numerous were

the classrooms that were then in use. Windows of this striking star-shaped

building had been blocked as in Tuol Sleng.

These prisons could be in the

towns. Paradoxically, the old colonial French prisons were often not used (is it

because officially there were no prisons in Democratic Kampuchea?), as in the

very heart of Phnom Penh the structure called T3 in the Heng Samrin regime. In

Sisophon, there was a prison for cadres in a modest administrative building, in

Prey Veng, the cadres prison was in the old Court House. In the same city, the

team of blacksmiths would spend a couple of days each month to make khnohs - a

sure sign they were produced quite massively, and identical in all


In Kompong Thom town, the old prison was used for a mixed

assortment of people whose arms were also tied, and the rattle of chains could

be heard in the vicinity. Many starved to death, while others were executed

further afield.

In Siem Reap city too, the old colonial prison was also

used in Pol Pot days, for cadres and ordinary citizens. The major difference

from earlier days was that the number of inmates was multiplied by up to ten.

For instance, in the individual cells meant for a few prisoners, up to 30 people

could be crammed. But district prisons, from 1976 especially, also contained

more and more Khmer Rouge - civilian and military - and the two systems were


Finally, I never came across a zone without a major

prison: in Ratanakiri, for instance, it was situated behind the hospital in

Banlung, now the provincial capital. The ruins of Lomphat, along the Srepok,

after the civil war, were razed by the KR, so was Voeunsai, along the


These various establishments formed a close network, and detainees

could be moved from one tier to another. Most of the time you were transferred

from one so-called "light" local prison, to a district prison, and then to the

higher or "heavier" prison, sometimes to the capital, if you were regarded as a

serious offender.

More rarely, with ups and downs, you could progess,

not towards death, but in stages to your liberation.

We can take the

example of B.C, a Prou from Ratanakiri, who had joined the revolutionary

movement in the sixties when he was at first a messenger. During the civil war,

he joined battalion 512 formed exclusively of ethnic minorities, which operated

on the northern border near Preah Vihear. He took part in the storming of Phnom

Penh, and was soon sent back to Preah Vihear, where a Lon Nol garrison resisted

for a short time after April 17. Later, he became an official in zone 103

covering Preah Vihear province. In Janaury 1978, all the officials of the zone

were summoned to a meeting in Rovieng, the zone capital. Twenty-six of them were

arrested in the local school and driven to Siem Reap prison in a Chinese lorry,

where B.C. stayed till November. All members of battalion 512 were taken to Tuol

Sleng at the time, he claimed. He was accused of collaborating with the

Vietnamese. He said in his defense that, in 1970, Pol Pot himself and his team

were protected by some 30 Vietnamese. Besides, he had worked for the liberation

of five provinces and the capital. In November, he was part of a group of some

100 people, along with his wife and children, taken by boat to Phnom Penh on the

Tonle Sap. Landing in front of the Royal Palace, he heard S21 was too

overcrowded, and two coaches drove them to Takhmau Lycée, where they stayed one

week, then to a pagoda in Kompong Kantuot, 24 km south of Phnom Penh, where he

and his family survived till the end of the regime. With this instance we also

notice that a number of public buildings were temporarily used to store

prisoners, when prisons proper did not "process" them fast enough. The ex-French

Lycée Descartes is said to have been used in this.


I am not in a position to come up with even approximate figures about the

number of victims of the Khmer Rouge prison system. All one can tentatively put

forward, with some degree of certainty, is that the number must have been very

large indeed.

Chandler prudently states that the number of victims "in

less than fours years, [is] more than one million[...] At least 100,000, and

probably more, were executed for crimes against the state". This figure of

course includes summary executions, so numerous in the early days of the


Just as Dr. Marek Sliwinski has demonstrated quite convincingly

that around two million perished, including about 42 percent of the population

of Phnom Penh in those fateful years, I believe that David Chandler's figure of

specifically political violent killings - summary executions, and deaths meted

out in the prisons - to be much higher. A reasonable assessment would be in the

region of 400,000 to 600,000 victims. But, considering the vast amount of

evidence that can be accumulated from on-the-spot visits of ex-detention centers

and mass graves, from the testimony of many witnesses and survivors, from

looking at Khmer Rouge literature and ideology, it is not unimaginable that the

figure could be even higher.

There was one major prison in each the 30

zones plus one to four in each of the about 150 districts. In all these prisons,

the dead must be counted by the thousands, rather than by the


This is irrespective of the innumerable smaller detention

centers and police stations at the commune levels, where detainees also


Demonstrating that a vast proportion - perhaps as much as one third

- of the Cambodia population that died under the Khmer Rouge was exterminated

inside prison-extermination centres matters for three main reasons:

  • First, the victims of the genocide must have been significantly more

    numerous than the one million figure which is usually quoted, but comes nearer

    to two million -that is not one in seven inhabitants who died, but one in four

    which changes the magnitude of the genocide. As in Hitler's Germany,

    exterminations were massive.

  • Secondly, it is definitely more barbarous to torment someone for

    weeks or months until he or she dies in shackles, after having submitted them to

    cruel interrogation sessions and very often most savage tortures, and slowly

    reducing them by starvation to a living skeleton, than finishing them off

    secretly at night, as too many have been led to believe.

  • Third, and most importantly, the Khmer Rouge leadership are

    definitely lying when they claim killings - if any - were initiated by vengeful

    local leaders.

No. As always in Pol Pot's Cambodia, every revolutionary had to submit most

obediently to the orders from the Centre, and these orders were increasingly to

launch the fiercest of attacks against "enemies" khmang, portrayed in the

official propaganda as subhuman fiends who must be annihilated to the last...

thousands, upon thousands, upon thousands of innocent victims of Pol Pot's

political purification campaigns. Submission to the Angkar -Party was the

key precept, and all youthful executioners were programmed to obey


For the Khmer Rouge leadership human lives had no more value

than atoms floating in outer space.

Like the raving gurus of a sect, they

were seized with milenarian fervour, and had lost all sense of reality, let

alone humanity.

"We liberated our country from slavery on 17 April

1975.[...] We are doing this for the defense of Democratic Kampuchea, the

Cambodia workers and cooperative peasants in the coming decade, century,

millennium, the next 10,000 years and forever ...", Nuon Chea, chairman of the

Cambodian People's Representative Assembly and acting Prime Minister, proclaimed

at a 16th January 1977 mass rally in Phnom Penh, marking the ninth anniversary

of the Cambodian Revolutionary Army.

Man is probably the only living

creature able to deny the very existence of reality - is this the price of his

liberty ?



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