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Cambodia's Genocide Becomes Big Business

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    NHNE News List Current Members: 758 Subscribe/unsubscribe/archive info at the bottom of this message. ... KILLING FIELDS LURE TOURISTS IN CAMBODIA By Zoltan
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 15, 2003
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      By Zoltan Istvan
      for National Geographic Today
      January 10, 2003


      The sight of 8,000 human skulls in a glass shrine stuns visitors into

      Outside, where cattle usually graze, human bones sometimes come unearthed
      after heavy rains.

      In Cambodia, nine miles (14.5 kilometers) from Phnom Penh, the "killing
      fields" of Choeung Ek have become a tourist attraction, horrifying and
      fascinating. Choeung Ek is one of thousands of other such sites around the
      country where the Khmer Rouge practiced genocide during the late 1970s.

      "There are two things you must see in Cambodia," says Scott Harrison, a
      traveler from Australia. "Obviously one is Angkor Wat. But the other is the
      killing fields outside Phnom Penh."

      In the chronicle of 20th century horrors, Cambodia ranks high. For much of
      the last three decades, Cambodia has suffered through war, political
      upheaval and massive genocide.

      Recently Cambodia has begun to revive. Its dark past is part of the reason:
      Tourist curiosity about Cambodia's genocide has become big business.

      "Tourism has increased by 40 percent every year since 1998," says Chhieng
      Pich, economic counselor at the Cambodian embassy in Washington, D.C.
      "Nearly all tourists that visit Cambodia will go see Angkor Wat. Over 30
      percent will visit the killing fields, too."

      Few sights in one country can differ more markedly. Angkor Wat, the early
      12th-century temple rediscovered in the 19th century (and designated a World
      Heritage Site in 1992 by UNESCO), reflects a profound spirituality.

      1.7 Million Cambodians Dead

      The killing fields document death. From 1975 to 1979, Pol Pot and his Khmer
      Rouge soldiers killed 1.7 million Cambodians, or 21 percent of the
      population, according to Yale University's Cambodia Genocide Program.

      A soccer-field-sized area surrounded by farmland, the killing fields contain
      mass graves, slightly sunken, for perhaps 20,000 Cambodians, many of whom
      were tortured before being killed. The bordering trees held nooses for

      A memorial building stands in the center of the killing fields. Many of the
      skulls inside were pulled from the mass graves.

      Hundreds of Cambodians now make a living by guiding visitors through the
      killing fields and other genocide-related sites. Many guides tell harrowing
      personal stories of how they survived the Khmer Rouge, often by becoming
      refugees in Thailand.

      Guides explain that bullets were too precious to use for executions. Axes,
      knives and bamboo sticks were far more common. As for children, their
      murderers simply battered them against trees.

      The grisly memories translate into income. "Tourist dollars and capitalism
      are helping me come to terms with my country's history -- and my own," says
      a Cambodian guide at the killing fields who didn't want to give his name. He
      lost his grandfather and uncle to the Khmer Rouge.

      Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide

      "It's good tourists are coming here interested in Cambodia's past," says
      Stephen Bognar, a liaison officer for WildAid Cambodia, a nonprofit
      conservation organization. "They're boosting the country's economy and
      helping out the people."

      Another notorious site is the Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide in Phnom Penh.
      Once a high school, Tuol Sleng became a torture camp, prison and execution

      Today the place looks benign, with palm trees and grass lawns in a suburban
      setting. From the outside, Tuol Sleng could be a school anywhere in the
      world. But inside are weapons of torture, skulls, blood stains and
      photographs of thousands of people who were murdered.

      The scene just outside is also heartrending. Amputees of all ages beg near
      refreshment and souvenir stands where tourists congregate. The Khmer Rouge
      may be long gone, but many of the land mines they laid are still killing and

      In a country where the annual per capita income is U.S. $260, begging can
      pay off.

      "Beggars can easily make [U.S.] $3 to $4 dollars a day," says Lim Sehyo, a
      Phnom Penh taxi driver and guide. "If you work it out, that's over [U.S.]
      $1,000 a year."

      As taxis full of tourists arrive at the killing fields, guides and beggars
      approach. Horror, memory, education and livelihood commingle at the site.


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