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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - New photo exhibition offers rare glimpse into KR regime

New photo exhibition offers rare glimpse into KR regime

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Swede Gunnar Bergstrom is returning to Cambodia for the first time since 1978 to tell about the things he saw, and ignored

AFP

Former Khmer Rouge  leader Ieng Sary, who once dined with Bergstrom.

AN upcoming exhibition featuring never-before-seen photographs of life under the Khmer Rouge will offer viewers an unfamiliar glimpse into the genocidal regime - one of smiling faces, full-bellied children and lush rice paddies.

Beginning Tuesday, the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam), in collaboration with the Living History Forum of Sweden, will exhibit photographs from a 14-day staged tour choreographed by the Khmer Rouge and taken by Gunnar Bergstrom, a member of a Swedish delegation invited to Cambodia in 1978 to rally support for the regime abroad.

Bergstrom, now 57, will return to Cambodia for the first time since the delegation to help the exhibition expose what he believed led to a "grave misjudgment" on his part for failing to see through the regime's thin veneer.

A new kind of truth

The photos, all of which are colour, offer a rare candy-eyed view of a regime determined to deceive Western visitors. Most of them are staged, but for Kalyanee Mam, one of the coordinators from DC-Cam, this is what makes them important.

"The staging process itself is revealing. It shows how much [the regime] was trying to hide," she told the Post Thursday.

As part of the Swedish Cambodian Friendship Association, Bergstrom was given a protected look into the country.

Wined and dined by regime leaders, and heavily guarded throughout the tour, he and his team members were largely oblivious to the turmoil around them. It was not until he heard stories of people escaping the regime that he realised his impressions were wrong.

The exhibition, titled "Gunnar in the Living Hell", will open at Reyum Arts Gallery and then travel to the ECCC, as well as galleries in Kampong Cham, Takeo and Battambang. It will finally be put on permanent display at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.

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