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Tuol Sleng seeks education funds

Tuol Sleng seeks education funds

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Phnom Penh’s genocide museum has requested money for a new educational scheme aimed at teaching students and professional tour guides more about the KR regime

Photo by:

SOVANN PHILONG

A tour guide shows a tourist around Toul Sleng museum on Monday.

THE curators of the Tuol Sleng genocide museum have requested funding and support for a new educational program targeting students and professional tour guides taking visitors to the site, to invite them to attend workshops to expand their understanding of what went on within the former school's walls during the Khmer Rouge regime.

"Our tour guides will teach them. They will understand what happened when they see prison guards' instruments to torture prisoners and pictures of prisoners," said Bun Kong,  the museum's administrative director.

"We want to let them learn more about it and learn the real story about Tuol Sleng."

He said the proposal was formally submitted to the Ministry of Culture last week, and they are waiting for approval and funding.  

He said the museum has requested US$1,000 a month to cover the cost of transporting participants from within Phnom Penh to the museum to attend the courses and will later ask for more funding so the program can expand to invite participants from outside the city.  

He said the program would also include the construction of a small classroom on the museum grounds.

According to Bun Kong, visitors to the museum were down last year to 40,000, from 50,000 in 2007.

He attributed the drop to an overall decrease in international travellers due to the global financial crisis.

He added that tensions on the border with Thailand have also discouraged land travel, further reducing the number of visitors.

Chuch Phoeung, a secretary of state at the Culture Ministry, welcomed the idea.

"We have no objection to this request," he said.

"We want to improve learning about our history," he added.

...tour guides are still lacking in their understanding of the Khmer Rouge.

"Most students have visited the National Museum of Fine Arts, but few have visited Tuol Sleng, maybe because they are scared of it," he added.  

Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, which has been heavily involved in collecting materials on the Khmer Rouge period and has organised free trips to the museum for rural Cambodians, said his organisation has discussed initiating the program with the museum for the past six years.

"The tour guides are still lacking in their understanding of the Khmer Rouge. Through this program, they will get serious training in the history and they can pass it on to tourists in the right way."

Youk Chhang said some guides dressed inappropriately and projected their voices loudly to talk over other guides.

Genocide tourism?

Tourism to former Khmer Rouge sites like Tuol Sleng prison and the Choeung Ek "killing fields" have for years been a mainstay for travellers to Phnom Penh.

And the recent arrests of top Khmer Rouge leaders by Cambodia's war crimes court have created a minor boom at the killing fields, where ticket sales doubled compared with the previous year, officials there said.

Beyond Tuol Sleng and Choeung Ek, there are a number of less prominent Khmer Rouge massacre sites, such as the "Killing Caves" of Phnom Sampeou, outside Battambang city, and Wat Thmey in Siem Reap.

There are about 90 community stupas around the country containing the remains of those who perished that attract visitors.

Hoping to further capitalise on this increased interest, the government is also considering establishing a circuit of former Khmer Rouge sites in the rebel's former stronghold of Anlong Veng, where regime leader Pol Pot died in 1998.

On some days, more than 100 people come to Anlong Veng to visit the home of the deceased former Khmer Rouge military chief Ta Mok and to survey the high ground from which he commanded over the final days of the movement in the late 1990s.

But Youk Chhang says tourists frequently do not treat the sites with respect.

In Tuol Sleng, "rooms are overfilled and people are talking loudly, there's no space to think. There shouldn't be a gift shop and parking lot inside the museum", he said. 

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