Saturday, February 23, 2008

Forgotten victims at Wat Chy He

Wat Chy He, a stone's throw from the Mekong River in Koh Sotin district
A part of my recent excursion to Kompong Cham was to visit a couple of the genocide memorials that reside in the province, as identified by the Documentation Center of Cambodia - the organisation that is collating all material and information relating to the Khmer Rouge period of the country's recent history. What I have found from visiting memorial sites across the country including Kompong Cham, is that of the 80 memorials that DC-Cam have published as existing countrywide, some of these memorials have since been destroyed, removed or fallen into serious neglect. DC-Cam did a lot of their investigation work in the late 90s and things have changed and moved on in the intervening years. Take the genocide memorial at Wat Chy He as an example.
Above & below: A burial pit at Wat Chy He, where the four jars are buried
I crossed the Mekong River on the local boat ferry from Koh Sotin island and passed through the busy market area to locate the pagoda at Wat Chy He, close to the riverbank. The memorial that I expected to find was nowhere to be seen. I asked a couple of young monks but they looked at me with blank stares. Then an old man appeared and told me that the memorial stupa that stood in front of the wat had been demolished many years earlier. I asked what happened to the remains of the Khmer Rouge victims that had been held in the stupa and he took me to a cemetery just outside the grounds of the pagoda and pointed to a series of holes in the ground, where one large burial jar could be seen. He told me that there were four such jars, containing the bones of the victims, that were buried here at the beginning of the decade. The original killing sites in the area were at the prison at Wat Chumnik, which I blogged recently, and at Neak Ta Chen, where remains from the killing pits there had been kept at the Chinese school near Chy He market. However, in 1993 the Chinese comminity took back the site as a school and the four jars were brought to the pagoda as their final resting place, though the stupa they were originally housed in was later destroyed. Today, few people know of the jars' existence and the estimated 1,500 victims who perished at Neak Ta Chen (it means Chinese spirit altar).
The colourful vihara of the pagoda of Wat Chy He

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