Friday, November 6, 2009

The scale of Tuol Sleng.

Anyone who has ever visited Phnom Penh probably knows this place. A very dark place, also known by the designation S21, it was at first located on Street 51 where the municipal police headquarters were, but in 1976 was moved to the former location of the Chau Ponhea Yat high school. It became a by-word for terror and was where the enemies of the Khmer Rouge were exterminated, many of them from within the organization’s own ranks. What most people don’t know is the original scale of this place. The central part has been preserved as a museum, but while it was still in operation it actually extended much further than just the grounds of the school. The elite Khmer Rouge Division 703 was in control of this place, and from their reports it stretched out from Monivong Boulevard in the east, across to Street 163 in the west. It apparently reached as far as Sihanouk Boulevard to the north, and down to Mao Tse Tung south. All of this area was surrounded by walls, fencing and barbed wire.
Very recently, I have had conversations with residents who contend that it was even bigger than previously reported. One resident who has lived in the neighborhood since 1982 has informed me that the compound didn’t stop at 163 but actually went as far as 199 to the west. At that time he says the previously enclosed area was obvious, and many of the now built up areas didn’t look anything like they do now, and for example some streets weren’t paved, but had banana trees planted all the way down the centre. On the map, the red area is the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum that is still preserved. The green part is the area which former Division 703 members say was the compound, and the blue area is the part which people in the neighborhood have told me was also included in the compound.
It is my understanding that the central, red part of the map was the actual prison, where people were incarcerated. There have been many studies which have shown that buildings close to this central area were used as interrogation centers. The greater areas which I have marked were probably not parts of the actual prison, but were enclosed areas where staff lived and grew vegetables etc. The reason that I feel this is important is that many of the Khmer Rouge top leadership have said they knew nothing of the existence of the place, and obviously this is doubtful because it is a very large section of the city.
The top black & white picture shows children who were rescued by Vietnamese troops from Tuol Sleng in January 1979. Most of these children still survive and are around middle age now.For a long time it was thought that only 7 people survived the centre, but recently it has been disclosed that quite a few more did. The color picture shows an exterior view of the Tuol Sleng museum as it is now. There are many high-school buildings around the city with similar appearance.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Le Royal.

This hotel, completed in 1929, for a long time held the distinction of being Phnom Penh’s highest building. This honor was later taken by The Intercontinental Hotel, and is at least for now held by the new forty-storey Canadia Bank headquarters. It was then, and remains, one of the finest hotels in the city. During the Khmer Rouge regime many of the leadership lived here. After the Vietnamese intervention in 1979 it was where the few international organizations that tried to aid the country’s recovery were based, along with many of the visiting journalists. It was called The Sammaki during the 1980s. The first picture shows the hotel in 1960, the other is recent.

Monday, November 2, 2009


The older picture shows French colonial troops at Wat Phnom for a visit by Marshal Joffre, a WWI hero, in 1921. There was an Avenue Joffre named after him for a time, it is the one that runs from Le Royal to Wat Phnom. The other picture is a similar same view but in 2006, showing crowds at Water Festival.