Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Evidence of killing field horror crumbling to dust

Evidence of killing field horror crumbling to dust

Evidence of killing field horror crumbling to dust

skulls.gif
skulls.gif

PHYSICAL EVIDENCE

Bones stored at Wat Sgnoun Pech in Kandal will soon turn to dust without

proper protection.

UNPRESERVED bones crumble, after 20 years. It's natural. When the bones are those

of victims of the Khmer Rouge killing fields, however, their deterioration may be

cause for concern.

This is worrying genocide researcher Youk Chhang, who claims that the government

is neglecting to preserve evidence that could be valuable in case of any Khmer Rouge

trials.

"I question myself, what am I doing, when I collect data but it seems like the

government doesn't care," Chhang laments. His office, the Documentation Center

of Cambodia, has made a 15-province survey, mapping over 4,000 mass graves with an

estimated 250,711 victims.

"It's important to preserve the evidence... to identify the mass graves where

the Khmer Rouge killed people, but everywhere we go, the skulls are all over the

place, nobody takes care of them. Cows eat them," Chhang says.

Indeed, at Wat Sngoun Pech, in Kandal not far out of Phnom Penh, a series of skulls

and bones are lined up in a crumbling shack among weeds. A roof protects them from

the elements, but the deputy head of the pagoda says they are deteriorating.

"The Pol Pot bones are not well kept," says Ham To Ho, 29, adding that

insects were taking their toll on the remains. "No one pays attention, that's

why they disintegrate."

Chhang says that before 1993, the Ministry of Culture had a budget to preserve the

bones and the small buildings they are usually housed in. The sites were often a

focal point of the State of Cambodia government's May 20 National Day of Hate, when

party members gathered to vent anger at the Khmer Rouge.

Today, the ministry has no budget for such things, according to an official from

the finance department.

"We haven't seen any documents from the provincial culture departments to request

the money," said the official, who asked not to be named.

Chhang is worried that, with the defection of most of the remaining Khmer Rouge,

the government is losing its oft-trumpeted will to prosecute KR leaders for genocide

- and the neglected bones are the symptom.

"They say they want a trial, but by doing this [welcoming KR defectors], what

is the real message?" Chhang asks.

Monk Ham To Ho reported that in 1996, "people from somewhere" came to the

pagoda and told him to burn the bones. Although he says he did not know who the people

were, he did as they said, burning most of the bones - albeit reluctantly.

"When I went to burn them, I got a bad reaction from the villagers around,"

he said. "They said it was eliminating the evidence."

In past years, King Norodom Sihanouk has advocated cremating the remains to give

Khmer Rouge victims a proper Buddhist burial.

The proposals were not well-received from CPP government officials, including Second

Prime Minister Hun Sen, who cited the need to keep the remains for evidence against

the Khmer Rouge and to remind future generations of the atrocities that were committed.

National Human Rights Committee member Svay Sitha said that his committee's mandate

may include preservation of KR evidence. He said the government had not ordered the

burning, and reaffirmed the government's commitment to preserving physical evidence

and an eventual trial.

"The position of the government is unchanged," he said. "We have to

try Khmer Rouge leaders." He added that it was against CPP policy to destroy

victims' remains.

Ham To Ho says if someone gave him money, he would build a better shelter for the

bones and pay someone to take care of them.

"The bones and skulls should be kept to remind [us] of the past experience,"

he says. "These people did not commit any crime ... everybody has to wish for

their souls to rest in peace."

MOST VIEWED

  • Research key to Kanitha’s rep for expertise

    Sok Kanitha is used to weighing in on controversial issues using a confident approach that signals expertise and authority, and a recent video she made was no exception. Her “Episode 342: The History of NATO” video went live on January 16, 2023 and immediately shot to 30,000 likes and 3,500

  • Cambodia maintains 'Kun Khmer' stance despite Thailand’s boycott threat

    Cambodia has taken the position that it will use the term "Kun Khmer" to refer to the sport of kickboxing at the upcoming Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, and has removed the term Muay from all references to the sport. Despite strong reactions from the Thai

  • Knockout! Kun Khmer replaces ‘Muay’ for Phnom Penh Games

    Cambodia has decided to officially remove the word Muay from the programme of the 32nd Southeast Asian (SEA) Games 2023 in May. “Kun Khmer” will instead be used to represent the Southeast Asian sport of kickboxing, in accordance with the wishes of the Cambodian people. Vath

  • Artificial insemination takes herd from 7 to 700

    Some farms breed local cows or even import bulls from a broad for the purpose of breeding heavier livestock for meat production. One Tbong Khnum farmer has found a more efficient way. Hout Leang employs artificial insemination to fertilise local cows. Thanks to imported “straws”

  • New int’l airport nearly half complete as travel industry returns to life

    Construction of a new airport that is slated to serve the capital has passed the 43 per cent completion mark, raising prospects for a proper recovery in the civil aviation and tourism sectors as international travellers return to the Kingdom in increasingly large numbers. The figure

  • Chinese group tours return to Cambodia starting Feb 6

    Cambodia is among 20 countries selected by Beijing for a pilot programme allowing travel agencies to provide international group tours as well as flight and hotel packages to Chinese citizens, following a three-year ban. As the days tick down until the programme kicks off on February 6,