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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."

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