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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Champagne return to the "old" French Embassy - and memories past

Champagne return to the "old" French Embassy - and memories past

Champagne return to the "old" French Embassy - and memories past

O N the landscaped grounds of the "new" French embassy where today French

diplomats and guests toast their national Bastille Day with champagne, one man

remembers how 20 years ago he struggled at the same place to find water to


Yves Ramousse, who has been the French bishop of Phnom Penh since

1963, spent 12 harrowing days as prisoner of the victorious Khmer Rouge in the

"old" French compound.

Today, the French are having their first party at

the newly-refurbished embassy at the top end of Monivong Blvd.


does not see any reason to oppose the symbolic return.

"It is quite a

good idea, but I do not speak on behalf of France. I do not work for the

embassy. I am on Catholic Church duty. If I was in the embassy in 1975, it was

only by chance."

He remembers he had to scour the grounds for wood to

burn during those days.

"It needed smartness! First, I got bamboo.

Quickly, there were no more branches. I was not alone searching for wood. At the

end, we used the doors and shutters (of the embassy)."

"About twenty

people, most of them priests and sisters, trusted me."


remembers the Red Cross first trying to set up neutral premises in the Phnom

hotel. "There, we greeted casualties. Any weapon was forbidden inside. We had to


The hotel was immediately emptied by the Khmer Rouge. "They did

not respect anything. All the priests and sisters were forced to leave the

Catholic Church. I had fifteen minutes to make off."

He took a prayer

book with him, but did not have time to stick his Bible among his


During those twelve days in the embassy, the bishop did all

but preach. "In this kind of moment, priests and bishops have a simple role to

fulfill: to be men, and with the others, share. Some asked me to


"The way of life was quite different from what I saw in the movie

The Killing Fields.

"Very few people lived inside the buildings. I was

in the garden all the time. I did not drink champagne, nor did I sleep on red

velvet sofa!"

Ramousse was also reminded of the beauty of a Khmer child,

born one night, which the mother gave to a young French couple when she was

forced to leave the embassy.

"He did not look like a Western child, sure!

But we succeeded nevertheless in hiding him. Then I was his neighbor in a

hospital of Thailand, after a convoy lead us out of Cambodia."

The French

have now given back the grounds and glitzy new buildings the privileges of

diplomatic status - something the Khmer Rouge had denied.

Since the KR

takeover, the embassy has been progressively used as an orphanage, ammunition

dump and a place for squatters.

Today, the French ambassador receives

guests for the national feast on this historic spot. It is not a full

inauguration, just an opportunity to celebrate the return of Paris


Since the French restored diplomatic relations with Cambodia

in 1991, their representatives have worked on 242 St.


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