Monday, December 17, 2007

Memorial for 20,000

Whilst heading back towards Phnom Penh after my visit yesterday to the Phnom Tamao zoo and two next-door hills that both contain ruined Angkorean prasats, I detoured just a kilometre before hitting Route 2 again to visit a pagoda that my two young guides had told me about when I visited Wat Phnom Tamao and Wat Thma Doh. I had asked whether any Khmer Rouge Genocide Memorials were located nearby and they told me about Wat Ka Koh, also known as Wat Sauphy, about five kilometres away. Upon reaching the wat, I came across a couple of women fishing in a large pond with a net and inspected their suprisingly large catch of fish, eels, frogs and crabs. Part of the pagoda's boundary wall was under water and appeared to encourage a rich vein of edible goodies which the women were quick to harvest. They confirmed that Wat Ka Koh did indeed contain a memorial to the dead. Inside the pagoda grounds I asked Sokum, a wood carver at the pagoda, whether he knew any more details. He explained that he came to the pagoda after the Khmer Rouge soldiers had disappeared and it was obvious to all that the area had been used as a killing ground with blood stains on the floor of many outbuildings and Khmer Rouge slogans extolling the virtues of Angkar written on the walls. A nearby primary school had been used as a prison and a series of mass graves, believed to be in excess of a thousand, littered the surrounding area. Conservative estimates put the total number of dead in the immediate vicinity to be more than 20,000, when investigated by the DC-Cam team seven years ago.

Sokum admitted there were simply too many bodies and skeletal remains to collect together, so it was decided to select 3,000 of the skulls still in good condition and to house them in a wooden memorial. The remainder of the bones were cremated. A few years later, a wealthy relative of one of the victim's donated enough money to build a concrete memorial building, which was erected facing out across the flooded fields and decorated with colourful Buddhist scenes on its walls. The stupa remains today, with 3,000 slowly-decaying skulls behind a dirty glass window and a few leg-irons that were retrieved from the death pits at the site. No-one comes to visit the site any more Sokum said, though it's still tidied up and the surrounding foliage pruned back from time to time. He felt it was important to remember the thousands that died at Wat Ka Koh but that today, people's thoughts had turned away from the Pol Pot time and onto other things, which he regretted, as he had lost many friends and family back then, who he would never see or speak to again. I felt a wave of sadness as he said this, a feeling that must sweep over many of the survivors when they recall that time, nearly three decades ago.
[I cannot post any photos of the memorial as my camera was stolen last night].

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry to hear that your camera was stolen along with your wallet. I hope something will happen to those desparate thieves.