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A Butchers Perch

December 17, 2009

   From 1975 till 1998 the elite of the Khmer Rouge built their homes perched on the Dongriek mountains looking over Cambodia.  From the cliff face it is a 400 meter drop down to where the people live.  This mountain border forms the border to Thailand and Cambodia.  For centuries this cliff face has been the site of wars and bloodshed.  From this perch, the Khmer Rouge also planned their conquest of Cambodia and ruled over the murder and starvation of some 40% of its population. 

   It is on these mountains, a chain of nearly constant cliff faces which stretches more than 500 kilometers, that Cambodia and Thailand have recently been fighting over the Preah Vihear temple complex.  The temple complex was conquered by the Thai people in the 1700’s, but the world court gave it back to Cambodia in 1962.  In order to expel the Thai Special Forces, the Cambodian military has stationed troops and built a network of foxholes and trenches along the entire border.  Once again, this border cliff is a place of bloodshed and violence. 

The cliff side perch from where Ta Mok pondered his violence

   The most atrocious bloodbath was when the first batch of Cambodian’s escaped the Khmer Rouge and sought refuge in Thailand in the late seventies and early eighties.  The initial response of the Thai’s was to round up the Cambodians in their tens of thousands and take them to that cliff face and dump them back into Cambodian territory.  More than 100,000 Cambodians died either from the fall from the cliff, or the landmines that waited for them at the bottom.  Finally the UN intervened and the refugee camps were started along the border area.  The cliff region remained an area of constant killing and war.

   Last week, down a narrow jungle path, I knew of a historical landmark.  Few know it is there.  It is a few kilometers through the jungle, passed the unmarked grave of Pol Pot.  There is only the remains of a destroyed concrete bunker which is overgrown with trees.  As you make your way through the deep grass and trees you come to the cliff edge.  This bunker and cliff section had a previous occupant who made this his perch.   His name was Ta Mok, nicknamed “The Butcher.”  If you ask any Cambodian who is the worst killer in the world they will give you one answer: Ta Mok, “The butcher”.  If he came to your village, it would be your last day alive.  He made it his personal mission to kill every resident of Prey Veng and Svie Rieng provinces and nearly completed his task.  He was famous to killing anyone who looked at his watch or even looked him in the eyes.  He would not kill them immediately, but he would take them at the night to create more fear among the people by using night ambushes. 

   From this perch he would scheme how to conquer every corner of Cambodia.  He would sit high above the comrades of his cause, pawns in his strategy for domination of the people.  Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, were killed by him.  He died without being tried.  He was held for nearly 10 years in prison.  He was buried by his family and with full Buddhist rite, even though it was this “Butcher” who killed more than 50,000 Buddhist monks and oversaw the decimation of every temple in the land.

   On this day, this place of death stood for a different purpose.  From this perch, my friends and I stood and asked God to bless this land and to bring true peace to all the people.  From this spot of terror and death, we asked God to redeem it for his purposes.  God bless Cambodia!

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