Tuel Sleng

The Red Army’s violent past leaves a distinctly bloody taste in the mouth

Tropical green foliage does little to hide the horror of the stark concrete prison built by the bloody hands of Pol Pot and his Red Army. You can hear the screams echo still. Wandering the levels, one finds cells divided floor to ceiling by brick and wood, barricades acting as temporary homes to the accused rebels, chained to the cold stone floor awaiting their personal integration.

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A processing room, an interrogation chamber, a confession box, call it what you will. A single iron bed frame as naked as the soul shackled to it stands alone in the still empty room. What little light falls through the shuttered and barred window highlights the stark rusted metal spattered with glistening deep red blood, life dripping from the battered pulp of an unrecognizable human form, raggedly gasping for air and on the brink of their final scene. This opera plays day in day out, and the finale comes all too soon.

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There is no re-education in this place, only forced admissions of an unfounded guilt worthy of the death sentence. A guilt shared by over 1,700,000 men, women and children, a guilt of being educated, free and unworthy of the Red Army’s redemption. The guilt of essentially being human. The punishment is unavoidable death by the most inhumane means; of hacking and slashing and hanging, of raw chemical (in)toxication until final ragged breaths are drawn, alive but crushed at the bottom of a hundred other buried souls, deep below the surface forever more. The curtain is finally drawn, the light fades, but there is no applause.

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Time erodes virulent passion, it ushers away outdated evil, condemns and punishes those who sought to rule in vein, but history lives on forever. Saturated graves littered with horrifying evidence of mass cruelty remain visible to the hordes of tourists learning anew of the Red Army’s genocidal attempt at reaching for a Utopian state. No one will forget. Fresh rage is ignited and fueled by social media spreads like wildfire. In Cambodia, only anger and fear remain, a fear of returning to the dark days and another attempt at Utopia, a fear all too real in this corrupt state they still call Kampuchea.

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