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Tuesday, March 17, 1998 Published at 18:54 GMT

World: Asia-Pacific

Confronting the killing fields
image: [ Cambodians are beginning to leave the past behind ]
Cambodians are beginning to leave the past behind

BBC Correspondent Enver Soloman reports on how Cambodians are finding ways to confront the psychological horror left by Pol Pot's killing fields.

Cambodia continues to be haunted by the Khmer Rouge under whose genocidal rule more than a million people died in the late 1970s.

Many of the country's 10 million people are still suffering from trauma-related social problems, and in the far north the guerrillas are still battling the government's forces.

But slowly the country is learning to cope with the upheaval in different and sometimes rather unorthodox ways.

Living without hope

[ image: More than one million people died during the Khmer Rouge's reign of terror]
More than one million people died during the Khmer Rouge's reign of terror
There is not a single family throughout the country who was left untouched by the genocide of the Khmer Rouge. The photographs of those who died are permenantly on display in the capital as a reminder of the suffering that still haunts the country.

The director of Cambodia's genocide project, Youk Chang, explains how the past still haunts the present.

"Cambodians do not have hope anymore, they've lost their hope. It is terrible. As a human being you live without hope. People don't trust each other, people just live day by day. That's the reason why the progress of this country is very slow."

[ image: Shrines hold the remains of the dead]
Shrines hold the remains of the dead
Buddhist shrines have been built across the country, in memory of those who perished in the killing fields. It is all part of the nation's healing process in which Buddhism plays a key role.

Despite the horrors of the 1970s young men continue to fight and kill each other as the government's forces battle guerrillas in the north.

A fighting faith

[ image: A young soldier receives a tattoo which he believes will make his skin bullet proof]
A young soldier receives a tattoo which he believes will make his skin bullet proof
Many young warrriors are taking their spiritual beliefs with them into the battlefield. Ancient buddhist tattoos are thought to be a vital piece of body armour against the Khmer Rouge guns.

One young soldier, So Sin, said: "With tattoos on both my back and chest I feel really strong. The enemy's guns and grenades will never be able to hurt me."

But Cambodians are not just relying on their Buddhist beliefs to deal with the suffering inflicted upon them.

Travelling between the remote villages in the north of the country, a group of mental health workers, all themselves victims of the Pol Pot years, are attempting to heal the nation's psychological wounds.

The region was labelled an experimental zone by the Khmer Rouge and turned into a vast labour camp. Nobody here escaped the brutality.

Over the years many villagers have become compulsive drinkers, unable to cope without alcohol. The trauma of the past has wrecked their lives. Twice a week they are brought together to share their problems, but learning to cope with the past is not easy.

[ image: Traditional buddhism is helping many come to terms with the past]
Traditional buddhism is helping many come to terms with the past
Kim Saphorn, a mental health worker, said: "Some people are afraid to talk about their traumatising experience in the past. They don't want to talk about this openly, they just keep things inside their mind and think about it."

For the Cambodian people coming to terms with the horror of the killing fields will certainly take many more decades. But there is no doubt that now in many different ways the trauma is gradually being confronted.

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