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US to fund project preserving clothes of S-21 victims

Shoes, clothes and bags used by S-21’s prisoners seen on display yesterday at Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh.
Shoes, clothes and bags used by S-21’s prisoners seen on display yesterday at Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh. Sahiba Chawdhary

US to fund project preserving clothes of S-21 victims

The United States Embassy has pledged $55,500 to the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts in part to preserve the clothes worn by victims of atrocities at S-21 prison.

The clothes were being stored at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, on the grounds of the former Khmer Rouge prison and torture centre, but according to Chuch Phoeun, secretary of state at the Culture Ministry, the collection is “in the worst condition”, with many of the items nearly destroyed by termites.

Speaking at a signing ceremony yesterday, US Ambassador William Heidt announced that the funding would go towards preserving 3,000 to 5,000 articles of clothing worn by prisoners as part of the US’s support for “Tuol Sleng’s mission of genocide education”.

“The timing of this project is critical since this clothing is over 30 years old and is slowly degrading,” said Heidt. “The conservation work will carefully preserve the textiles without removing this historical evidence [of blood and sweat stains on the clothing].”

The clothes were worn by some of S-21’s at least 12,000 prisoners, all but a handful of whom died or were killed in captivity. After the preservation work is complete, a selection will be chosen for an exhibit.

The funds will also go towards training museum staff for future preservation efforts.

Chhay Visoth, director of the museum, said he hoped to do an inventory of the museum’s artefacts in the future, while also working with partners to ensure their proper protection.

“We are thinking about the future, and of continuing to talk to the US or the other institutions to support us for storage. Because we need proper conditions to keep these items.”

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