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Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

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A school, a prison, the end of the road; Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum was one of hundreds of detention and interrogation centres created all over Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge—who gave the former high school the sinisterly innocuous name S-21—where countless thousands of Cambodians were ruthlessly processed until they were dead.

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Visiting today, the setting itself seems no less innocuous: a series of long, three-storey buildings set around green, carefully tended gardens. Under the bright sunlight, it looks like an ideal school and less so like a perfect torture centre, but that is what it was. Of the 14,000 people known to have come in here, only seven were found alive at the end—although some would have been released during S-21’s four long years of operations.

That it appears so similar to a normal school adds to the disturbing nature of the place. Photo taken in or around Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, Phnom Penh, Cambodia by Stuart McDonald.

That it appears so similar to a normal school adds to the disturbing nature of the place. Photo: Stuart McDonald

Caged in by barbed wire, electric fences and 300 guards, the 1,500 prisoners who found themselves here at any one time for whatever reason were all destined to die, but only after they had confessed to their “crimes”. At first, S-21 took in the regime’s undesirables, the educated, city people, but as the Khmer Rouge’s paranoia grew many of the prisoners were former KR cadres who had become casualties of the increasingly deranged internal purges. Or, they were those who had been denounced by someone who knew them under a whisper of suspicion; or some were there because their names had been surrendered by those sufficiently broken by torture into giving any names they could think of. One theme that frequently comes up from this time is how people were able to use the Khmer Rouge to get revenge on neighbours for some slight ... Travelfish members only (Around 900 more words) ... please log in to read the rest of this story.

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Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
Corner of Sts 113 and 350, Phnom Penh
Daily 08:00–17:00
T: (023) 655 5395
Admission: $5 and $3 for the audio guide

Location map for Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

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