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Lingering legacy of KR madness

Lingering legacy of KR madness

P hum Trapeang Sva - While the "Killing Fields" at Cheong Ek and the Tuol Sleng

Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh have gained international noteriety as monuments

to the extent of Khmer Rouge barbarity during their three year, eight month and

twenty day reign, what is less known is that remnants of the KR gulag - where

countless thousands were excecuted - can be found throughout the

country.

Thus, while people now regularly drive to the Tonle Bati, 30 kms

south of the capital, to enjoy the lake and tour the ancient ruins dating back

to Angkor, probably few are aware that just across the waters lie the ruins of a

teacher training college which contains a stark reminder of one of this

century's most horrific genocidal acts.

No-one knows for sure how many

people were killed at what the Khmer Rouge called Munty Sang (Office Sang), but

by the size of the pile of human skulls and bones, it's safe to say that at

least several thousand people had their lives snuffed out here.

"There

used to be many more bones but the cows came and ate them," says Kham Muth

(right), a former refugee who now lives near the site, as he points at the ten

meter heap of remains.

With bleached femurs, tibias and skulls scattered

about the ground, Muth says that nobody ever comes to visit the site. In the

three years he has lived in "Monkey Lake Village" he says that no ceremonies

have been held to commemorate the dead either.

"I'm not the caretaker. I

just feel pity for the skulls and help put them back up (on a shelf)," he

laments.

While the exact details of what happened at Munty Sang are

already lost, research by French academic Henri Locard into the workings of the

Khmer Rouge prison network has shed some light on the grim realities of the KR's

execution centers.

According to Locard, Munty Sang was one of about 150

such centers all over the country. By interviewing villagers who remember the KR

era he estimates that the prison held about 1,000 people at any one time and

that almost everyone who ended up in the prison was eventually executed. Locard

also says that the prison held almost as many women as men.

Prison guards

would take "confessions" by hand, type them and send them to a higher authority

for review.

Prisoners were shackled by their ankles to long metal pipes

and a pile of about 50 rusting leg irons are now collecting dust at one end of

the bone heap. Villagers say that the executions always took place at night.

Groups of between ten to twenty would be marched several hundred meters away

from the school - sometimes on a daily basis - where they would be killed,

usually by being clubbed in the back of the neck.

Mass graves, covering

over 2,500 square meters, are still visible about a kilometer from the school,

where shards of clothing, teeth and bone fragments remain to this day.

After the KR were overthrown by the Vietnamese invasion, many of the

graves were dug up by relatives seeking to identify loved ones or by people

looking to plunder gold teeth.

In 1983 the Heng Samrin regime conducted

an official investigation of the genocide which is why most of the skulls and

larger bones were moved back to the school to be put on display, where they seem

to have languished unattended ever since.

As for Locard, he has visited

many such sites around the country but spends most of his time trying to

interview people who might remember what happened two decades ago.

"It's

better to talk to the people," says Locard, "I've seen enough bones, too many

bones."

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