Nearly 2 million people died in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979
in a Khmer Rouge reign of terror. Not a single person has ever
been brought to trial for this genocide.
came on a journey to Cambodia to find out why there's been no
public reckoning," says FRONTLINE/World reporter and
in International Journalism Amanda Pike. She discovers a
country still haunted by the ghosts of those who died -- a country
that does not know whether to confront or bury its violent past.
In a village a few miles outside the capital Phnom Penh, Pike
meets a woman, Samrith Phum, whose husband was taken away one
night in 1977 and executed as an alleged CIA spy. Today, the
man Samrith holds responsible for her husband's murder lives
just down the road, where he runs a noodle shop. This is a pattern
across the country: the families of genocide victims live side
by side with their former executioners and tormentors.
Cambodia's descent into hell began in the 1970s when the Vietnam
War spilled across the border. The United States bombed Cambodia
relentlessly. Out of the chaos, a small, hardcore band of Maoists,
the Khmer Rouge, took control of the country. They emptied the
cities, marching people off to rural work camps, and turned
back the calendar to Year Zero. In an effort to create a primitive
agrarian utopia, the Khmer Rouge purged the country of everything
foreign or modern. They outlawed books, money and medicine.
They began mass executions.
Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot and his army were driven from power
in 1979 by the Vietnamese, but retreated to the countryside
and fought a civil war until 1998. As part of a peace agreement,
the Khmer Rouge were granted control over Pailin, a semiautonomous
zone along the border with Thailand.
Pike sets out on a journey to Pailin to find and confront the
highest-ranking surviving member of the Khmer Rouge, the secretive
and elusive Nuon Chea, "Brother Number Two."
On her way Pike passes through Anlong Veng. This dusty village
was the final headquarters of the late Pol Pot. His supporters
still cling to his memory and his ideology. Pike meets Pol Pot's
former cook and her husband, who was Pol Pot's ambassador to
China, the main patron of the Khmer Rouge.
Some fervent believers still worship the notorious dictator.
Pike discovers families praying at Pol Pot's grave for health,
guidance and winning lottery numbers. As she looks more closely,
Pike is stunned to see that these devotees are digging through
Pol Pot's ashes, snatching up fragments of his bones to take
away as talismans.
Next, Pike finds a school where the Khmer Rouge once taught
children how to lay mines and make traps of sharpened bamboo
sticks. Today, students study more traditional subjects, but
they learn nothing of the genocide. In another school, Pike
watches a former Khmer Rouge official teaching English to Pol
Pot's only child, a teenaged daughter who has been in hiding
since her father's funeral four years ago. Ironically, learning
English was forbidden by her father -- speaking it was punishable
After navigating a long pockmarked road, Pike reaches the checkpoint
that marks the border of Pailin, the gem-laden refuge of the
most notorious leaders of the Khmer Rouge elite. The old puritanical
Khmer Rouge world is turned upside down. At night, the town
lights up like a low-rent Las Vegas. There are brothels and
casinos. The main lounge act is a midget singing karaoke. The
big sports draw is the spectacle of a mentally ill man being
forced to kickbox with a child.
Finally, Pike enters a simple wooden shack where she meets Nuon
Chea, "Pol Pot's shadow." Journalist Nate Thayer (the last person
to interview Pol Pot) describes Nuon Chea as "probably more
guilty than Pol Pot himself for the actual killings that went
on while the Khmer Rouge were in power." In his first interview
for American television, Nuon Chea claims that some unnamed
foreign power was responsible for the genocide, not the Khmer
Rouge. Now elderly and in failing health, he tells Pike he would
appear in court if summoned but he would deny his guilt.
it seems, is an old man who calls genocide a mistake,'" concludes
The prime minister of Cambodia, Hun Sen, has said, "We should
dig a hole and bury the past." That attitude has frustrated
the United Nations, which accuses the Cambodian government of
blocking U.N. efforts to organize an international genocide
tribunal in Cambodia.
But back in Phnom Penh, burying the past is difficult. Pike
visits Tuol Sleng, the former Khmer Rouge prison camp. The Khmer
Rouge, who kept meticulous records, took photographs of their
prisoners before they were tortured and executed. These harrowing
photographs are an indelible record of the mass killings.
Pike finds genocide survivors protesting at the prison camp.
They are demanding a war crimes trial. One man shouts, "I beg
you not to forget the atrocities and to remember vividly this
Director of Photography
Documentation Center of Cambodia
Tuol Sleng Museum
The Cambodian Master Performers Program
Preah Vihear Video
Pew Fellowships in International Journalism
UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism