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Tourist Numbers at the Killing Fields Keep Rising

Chea Vannak / Khmer Times Share:
Foreign tourists look at skulls on display at the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center, located about 15 kilometers southwest of Phnom Penh. KT Photo: Chea Vannak

PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – The number of tourists visiting the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center, known as the Killing Fields, is estimated to be rising markedly in the first four months of 2015 compared to the same period last year, an official said.

Located southwest of Phnom Penh in Dankoar district, the Killing Fields is where more than a million Cambodian people were killed in the darkest hours of the Khmer Rouge. Ros Sothearavy, deputy director of Choeung Ek Genocidal Center, told Khmer Times that the number of visitors is estimated to be increasing significantly when compared to previous years.

The Killing Fields, which is the largest mass grave of Pol Pot’s reign of terror from 1975-1979, is where prisoners were taken for execution. It displays thousands of skulls of Cambodian people who were killed there under the Khmer Rouge’s program of state-sponsored genocide. The killing of their own compatriots still remains a tragedy in the country today and is, to the next generations of Cambodians, a chilling reminder of the cruelty and barbarity of the regime. 

One of the main reasons behind the increased tourist numbers is due to “stability in the country,” Ms. Sothearavy said, adding that the number of tourists will likely increase in 2015. Last year, the center sold tickets to 210,000 tourists, Ms. Sothearavy highlighted. 

The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia have concluded its Tribunal 002 Case 1 and documents relating to the case are on display, which is another factor attracting tourists both foreign and local.

Since its operation began in 1999, when foreign tourists were few compared to today, visitors to the center have been steadily increasing on a daily basis, she said.

The center charges foreigners $6 each to visit the center, while Cambodian nationals get in free of charge, Ms. Sothearavy said. “For Cambodian people, they just have to say which province they are from and how many people are in their group, and they will be allowed to visit the center for free,” Mrs. Sothearavy continued. 

On average, the center currently receives 300 to 400 foreign tourists a day and from 30 to 50 locals. Admission to the Killing Fields includes an audio tour, which is available in several languages and also includes stories by some of the survivors.

The income the center generates fully supports its expenditure, including staff salaries and development works, she explained, adding that some of the income is used to help the poor and provide donations to orphanages.  

The Killing Fields was one of many execution sites around the country during the 3-year-8-month-20-day regime of Pol Pot, which killed nearly two million people. There are a total of 129 body pits, of which 43 communal graves have been left untouched, and 8,985 skulls are on display at the center. The number of tourists visiting the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center also continues to be an economic boom for local people, including those providing transportation services to the center. 

Last Wednesday, nearly a thousand officials, monks and citizens marked “Remembrance Day” at the Killing Fields to respect the souls of those who were brutally murdered by the Khmer Rouge.

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