F RENCH photographer Roland Neveu remembers an eerie silence that suddenly
descended over Phnom Penh at daybreak, around 7am, on April 17,
Heavy fighting around the outskirts of Phnom Penh in the early
evening before had died down only to start even more violently around
"Creeping" out that morning with his camera, not yet used to the
strange absence of noise, he saw the first shadowy figures of Khmer Rouge
soldiers, and slowly, carefully began taking pictures.
"I didn't know if
they would arrest us, or kill us. Now that the fighting was over, I thought
there might be no problem... on the other hand, maybe there would be." In front
of the French Embassy, he took his most important and treasured photo - shown on
the right - of a happy crowd boldly gathering around the first group of grim,
unsmiling KR militia. The celebration of "peace" can be clearly read among the
civilian faces; and though fanciful, one might wonder of the fate that was to
visit each one.
This was one of the first images taken of the fall...
"the one, the most important, the first encounter."
Neveu worked for a
month or longer for the Gamma picture agency up till the fall, going each day to
the front lines which were static - between 10 and 15kms surrounding the capital
- though fiercely active.
Neveu remembers that once the roads into Phnom
Penh and the river access closed, it became obvious that the fall of the city
was imminent, it was just a question of time.
The Phnom Penh Post is
grateful to Neveu to allow the publication of these photographs: a small
sampling of images fearful, tragic and historic. And a reminder on film that as
of April 17, 1975, the inconceivable had just begun.