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)."
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
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."
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.