Wednesday, 18 February 2009 07:26
With a regime that has tortured and killed millions in Cambodia, comes countless tales of dark spirits haunting the living. During the night in Cambodia's capital, security guards huddle together for protection. "At night, we can see a black shadow walking," says Kim Sok, a 25-year-old guard at the museum, which served as the main prison for the 1975 to 1979 Khmer Rouge regime. "We just stay close together so we can take care of each other."
At a prison code-named S-21 under the supervision of former mathematics teacher Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, more than 15,000 prisoners were tortured before being hauled to a killing field on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. Belief in spirits is widespread throughout Cambodia and there is particular fear of those who died violently without a proper Buddhist burial. "Many people, including tourists, told me they've seen spirits disguised as a monk, a prisoner and children," says Ith Simorn, 48, who lives in a house across from the ramshackle museum.
Chey Sopheara, director of the Tuol Sleng museum, says he saw a spirit of an inmate there shortly after the Khmer Rouge was ousted by Vietnamese-led forces in January 1979. "One early evening around 5:30 pm, I was sitting on a bench near one of the buildings. A spirit zoomed in and its two hands held my thighs so tightly that I couldn't move. I noticed the ghost wore red trousers." The next morning, he says, guards there found a girl's corpse clad in red trousers.
Three decades after he survived electrical shocks and beatings, former Tuol Sleng prisoner Chum Mey said he still wakes up sobbing every night. "Sometimes, the spirits make me dream about them and ask me for help," says the 79-year-old, who was allowed to live by the Marxist regime because he was deemed a useful mechanic.
"I believe the spirits of the Khmer Rouge victims are still there, waiting restlessly around the former prison for justice," he adds. In all, up to two million people died in Cambodia under the regime because of overwork, starvation, execution and torture. Cambodians who work at the museum or live nearby say the place will remain haunted until the regime's leaders are punished.
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