Eighteen skulls and an array of human bones were unearthed by labourers making foundations for monks’ living quarters at Siem Reap town’s Wat Kesararam pagoda over the weekend.
The remains showed evidence of violence and murder, with skulls cracked open, arm bones bound together with rope and leg bones clasped together with iron leg cuffs.
“On Monday last week we first found some bones, but this week we dug up half a metre of topsoil and I happened to see many skulls and bones, some already rotten,” labourer Phoy Yon told the Post.
“The killing of those bodies may have occurred in the Khmer Rouge regime because their bodies were dropped over each other and we could see the leg irons,” Yon said.
Wat Kesararam chief monk Sambath Ly Yeut said the now-peaceful religious place had a well-known dark history as a Khmer Rouge execution site.
“In the last five to six years we have been discovering human bones,” he said. “In 2001 when we built our temple, we saw many bones of bodies, buried with handcuffs.”
Human remains discovered at the pagoda have been informally kept in a small cottage behind the temple and are a sombre reminder of the permanent “scar” on Cambodians’ memories, the abbot said. All remains so far discovered have been of adults, he added.
“We will pray for these [recently unearthed] bodies at the Pchum Ben festival that will be coming soon,” he said.
The labourers ceased work at the site yesterday and provincial department of cult and religion officials began research into the macabre findings, the department’s Siem Reap director Vann Bunna said.
For researchers, the discovery was just the beginning of unanswered questions, he said.
The site of the pagoda was used as a prison and killing field during the Khmer Rouge regime, Van Than Peou Dara, Documentation Center of Cambodia deputy director, said.
“According to our research since 1995 we found that this pagoda was a security office, prison, and killing site in the Pol Pot genocidal regime,” Peou Dara said.
While the findings bore similarities to executions conducted during the Khmer Rouge regime, Siem Reap district governor Tep Bun Chhay said it was equally possible some of the killings could have taken place under the Lon Nol era.
“Police already went there to see the bodies; however, we still don’t know whether they have been killed in the Pol Pot regime or not.”
There were 24 known killing sites in Siem Reap, stretching from Kralanh district to Angkor Chum to Chi Kreng to Banteay Srei, Bun Chhay said.
“The innocent victims killed at these sites are estimated to be about 44,528,” he said.
To contact the reporter on this story: Thik Kaliyann at [email protected]