Western Victims of the Khmer Rouge at Tuol Sleng Prison, Phnom Penh.
Above Photo: Leaving the flowers outside the VIP block in Tuol Sleng Prison (aka S21), Cambodia.
I’m always conscious when writing articles on this site that someone involved in the incident, or families of people killed in the events I describe, may well be reading the articles.
I certainly know this to be true about the Vietnam War and the Secret War in Laos, because I’m frequently contacted privately by people involved in plane crashes, battles and incidents I’ve written about.
But it has now happened about the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia too.
In an unusual coincidence, I have been recently contacted by friends and family of two people – Westerners – murdered in Tuol Sleng, the Khmer Rouge’s torture prison in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, whom I have written about in articles on this site.
They – and the content of our sobering but interesting email exchanges – will remain private (as most of my website-related correspondence is). But I was struck that in the space of just one week, I was contacted by people on two different continents, whose friends or loved ones were tortured and murdered by the Khmer Rouge in that evil shithole, also known as S21, in Phnom Penh.
I promised both families I would visit the prison when I next passed through Cambodia and leave flowers in memory of the victims.
So, when I passed through Phnom Penh recently, I bought 3 bunches of flowers in a market, jumped on a tuk tuk and paid to enter the always-forbidding, barbed wire-ringed slaughterhouse of Tuol Sleng.
After my last visit, I swore I’d never go back there, as it isn’t – rightly – a place to visit casually. It takes a lot out of any visitor, no matter how many times you visit. But this was important, although I wasn’t sure they’d allow me to enter with the flowers. I’ve never seen anyone leave anything except litter in my previous ten visits there.
I’d brought paper and scissors and sat for a while, writing out dedications for the two specific foreign victims and one dedication for all known and unknown victims of the Khmer Rouge who were tortured and murdered in Tuol Sleng, or out in the Killing Fields afterwards. I felt really sad doing this.
I then placed the flowers outside the VIP wing of the prison, which is where the Khmer Rouge apparently kept high-ranking prisoners, including foreigners.
I don’t believe in a god, so I just stood for a while in quiet contemplation of the horror of that place and how happy sailing holidays in the azure waters off the coast of Cambodia could end so horrifically for unwitting young mariners who fell into the Khmer Rouge’s hands.
I also thought about the outrageous lack of accountability for most of the Khmer Rouge’s murders, and the absence of any real justice for their millions of victims.
I then sat for a while in the courtyard of the prison and noticed people wandering up and reading the dedications on the flowers, which was nice to know; that these two people weren’t forgotten, even just for an afternoon, in that awful place where they’d been brutally tortured and murdered all those years ago.
For them – and the others – justice is a long time in coming.
For POWs left behind in Laos, see:
© Peter Alan Lloyd
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