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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - In Memoriam -Stefan Ellis, 1965-1996

In Memoriam -Stefan Ellis, 1965-1996

Stefan Ellis, a former photographer in Cambodia, died tragically in the US

on December 2.

Mark Dodd, former Reuters chief in Phnom Penh, now in Tanzania, sent this farewell


Dear Stef,

I will remember Thanksgiving Day, 1996 very well, and coming from an Australian,

that's no small feat recalling American holidays. I was winging it back from the

Ngara refugee camps, hoping to make Nairobi by nightfall. Looking up at the heavens,

it was heavy weather, leaden clouds haemorrhaging over the towering mountain range

that marks the Rwanda-Tanzania border. The sun broke through when we were droning

over Lake Victoria and for one brief moment it appeared as a silver mirror far below.

Stefo, old friend - what have you done?

Brother King of the Kompong Thom "Swamp Castle," Evil Kneevil awardee for

hot licks on Route 6. In covering the strife up north during UNTAC, we never did

settle the wager over who had made the most trips to Salar Vissay and surrounds.

I lost count at 12. It's peaceful in Kompong Thom now. By the way, I treasure that

photograph of the militiaman with the RPD machine gun pushing his bicycle through

the churned up slop on Route 6.

We were quite a team for a while. The dirty half dozen working the wires. You, me,

Serge, Helene, Leo, and Nate. And the stories we covered together. The "Battle

of Phnom Penh," December 21, 1991. You and Cooney out in the front of 3,000

banner-waving students on the anti-corruption march to parliament. It was a long

hot day, and night, that one. Leo getting sconed on the noggin by that rock during

the fracas between the medical students and the police. And you were right, they

weren't all students - remember the guy with the .45 stuck in his pants urging the

medicos to riot. Which faction did he work for? Cambodian politics - what a quagmire.

And yes Stefan, we could see the shell case being ejected from the pistol fired by

the police chief over the heads of the students. Nice scoop - went round the world,

that pic. That night, along then Achar Mean, crouching behind the flower pots outside

the Monorom when the APCs went past firing at the demonstrators. Arthur nearly got

whacked that night, lucky to lose only camera gear and bike. You used to be able

to see the bullet scars on the cinema before it got pulled down. Months later, I'd

walk up to that green garbage container parked on the side of the road and finger

the bullet hole in the top, just to remind me it did happen. You didn't like to admit

it, but it was your first close brush with the other world wasn't it? You and Serge

firing flash shots outside the police compound moments before they opened up. The

ricochets took two people there.

What was it like dialling out of Cambodia - what was the fix? I hope you didn't think

we were conned by the camouflage fatigues and the jargon. Stef, you were a very sensitive

person, but you did like to keep that side of you buried. In matters of the heart,

it sometimes boiled over. Hey tough guy - did it really matter if you dropped Helene?

And who among us wasn't moved by your love for your father.

We shared your disappointment at not getting the Moscow job and admired your grit

to head over there anyway to prove your mettle as a freelance, a stint cut short

by street toughs and another close call. Then we started losing touch. You tried

the Middle East and went into a holding pattern yo-yoing between your friends in

Cambodia and your professional instincts. Back in Cambodia again on the renaissance

tour you proved your adaptability by shooting video news.

I was looking forward to working with you when you got to East Africa. Shared beers

with a mate after a day on the trail. Looking forward to a laugh at that acid-sharp

sense of humor of yours.

You're not being here - that's really a terrible shame because the story of the Great

Lakes crisis is poorer without your contribution, deprived of your compassionate

and keen photographer's eye - and another day of life.

- Your friend Mark.



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