bati district, Takeo province – Such a pretty building to house such horrors.
Off Route 2, about 40 km south of Phnom Penh, a new building with a shining pagoda-style roof shelters a large pile of human bones. They are all that remains of Cambodians who were tortured and killed at Wat Kokos during the Khmer Rouge regime. They are among the estimated 33,000 people who died in Bati district alone. More than 1 million died throughout Cambodia.
On Sunday, hundreds of officials, residents and schoolchildren joined 100 monks to pray for the souls of the victims, and to dedicate a refurbished museum in their memory. As monks chanted and incense smoke spiraled into the sky, Bati district Deputy Chief Ou Sokchea told the story of his sister, who had been tortured to death.
“We hurt so much when we remember how much we suffered in prison, and how unfair it was that my sister, as well as [so many others], got killed,” he said, his voice shaking.
Some 8,000 human remains were discovered at Wat Kokos, and officials say many more are buried on the grounds. Bati district Chief Phlok Phan said there are at least 669 mass graves in his district.
As an orchestra played funeral music, Ou Sokchea said Cambodians must never forget. what happened here.
The ceremonies in Takeo were part of Remembrance Day, a national day of mourning for Khmer Rouge victims, which was formerly called Hate Day.
During the Vietnamese occupation, Hate Day was a national catharsis. Families would gather at sites like Wat Kokos to weep, to denounce the Khmer Rouge and to burn effigies of Khmer Rouge leaders.
Farmer Khuon Sok, 55, came to honor his two sisters and brother who were killed at the pagoda.
“I come here today to remind myself of the suffering we endured during the Khmer Rouge regime,” he said. “I cannot forget this terror.”