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
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.
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
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
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.
would take "confessions" by hand, type them and send them to a higher authority
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.
better to talk to the people," says Locard, "I've seen enough bones, too many