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."
Here, at 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. After the UN-backed Khmer Rouge war crimes tribunal began on Tuesday to try Duch for crimes against humanity and war crimes, nowhere seems as haunted as his notorious former prison.
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.
Consisting of four buildings and a dusty field, Tuol Sleng was a high school until the Khmer Rouge made it the centre of a network of 70 prisons throughout the country. Documents at Tuol Sleng reveal leaders ordered suspected enemies of the regime to be tortured into signing statements that they were agents of the CIA, KGB and of neighbouring Vietnam.
In all, up to two million people died in Cambodia under the regime because of overwork, starvation, execution and torture.
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