Choeung Ek is the largest excavated mass grave site in Cambodia, set in an old orchard and Chinese graveyard, 17 kilometres south of central Phnom Penh, where political prisoners from Tuol Sleng (S-21) in Phnom Penh were taken and killed between 1975 and 1979. Graves containing 8,895 bodies were discovered at Choeung Ek after the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime and exhumed in 1980. Forty three of the one hundred and twenty nine communal graves here have been left untouched.
Today, Choeung Ek is a memorial, marked by a Buddhist stupa seventeen stories high. The stupa is constructed with glass along its walls to allow the viewing of the more than 5,000 human skulls recovered from the surrounding burial pits, many shattered or smashed in. The exhumed pits remain open allowing visitirs to walk along the edges. Human bones and bits of cloth from blinfolds and cloths still litter the site.
In the morning of each killing day a messenger was sent ahead from Tuol Sleng to the Choeung Ek Killing Field to inform the killing units about the number of the prisoners to be received. These numbers varied greatly from a few dozen to over three hundred, but were very important so that teams could dig the appropriate sized graves to place the bodies.
In the evening at Tuol Sleng, guards took the required prisoners from their cells to the Torture centre's main gate where a large truck waited. They told the prisoners that they were being transferred to another prison rather than a killing place to prevent the prisoners from becoming hysterical, refusing to go or from escaping. To ensue that accurate records were kept, a list was marked off at the prison then later carefully checked at Choeung Ek so no prisoner was missed.
Each truck held three or four guards and approximately twenty five prisoners. When the trucks arrived at Ceoeung Ek, the prisoners were placed into a small dark wooden building with a galvanized steel roof and marked off again on the list.
Prisoners were led blindfolded with their arms tied at the elbows behind their back in small groups to the newly dug pits. There were separate graves for men, women and children. To ensure that executions were correctly carried out, Duch, head of S-21, supervised while sitting smoking on a mat. The prisoners names were again ticked off on a list.
They were told to kneel down and then were clubbed on the back of the neck with hoes or heavy pieces of wood, then their throats were cut just like chickens. Babies were killed by picking them up by their legs and bashing their heads against a tree.The head of inspectors then checked to make sure that no one was left alive.
To drown out any noise such as screams a generator was left constantly running. This also provided the electric light needed for the operation. To further hide the sound, huge speaker horns were tied to a tree called the 'magic tree' and played loud chines revolutionary music.
If the neccessary kilings could not br completed, the prisoners were kept over night and through the next day in the wooden shack on site, then were first to be executed the following night.