Marjolaine Caron (C), the daughter of French journalist Gilles Caron, and her husband,Louis Bachelot, (R) present Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith with a copy ofCaron’s scrapbook Monday, Dec. 10, 2012. Photograph: Vireak Mai/Phnom Penh Post
On a strip of grass outside Le Royal Hotel in Phnom Penh yesterday, Marjolaine Caron stood in front of the last picture ever taken of her father, Gilles Caron, who disappeared while covering the openingsalvos of the civil war in 1970.
She had never been to Cambodia before, and because of what happened, had no intention to ever visit.
“Before, it was too hard for me,” she said, standing next to a memorial to honour journalists who died from 1970 to 1975, when the Khmer Rouge fought against Lon Nol’s government. “We could notspeak about it.”
Thirty-seven names of reporters, photographers and cameramen declared dead or missing in action during the war were engraved on the black rectangular stone stele, which was erected last year withthe help of officials and former foreign correspondents.
Family and friends gathered to attach a photo of a 30-year-old Caron to the back of the monument. It was the last photo snapped of him as he departed Le Royal in April 1970, headed toward Vietnam onNational Road 1, and was never seen again.
In his short career, Caron darted from conflict to conflict, photographing war and upheaval. He covered Vietnam in late 1967, went to document the separatist fighting in Biafra – what is now Nigeria – lessthan a year later, and then onto Northern Ireland in 1969.
Cambodia was to be his last war. His family believes Caron was killed by Khmer Rouge forces, but there are no definitive answers.
They plan on travelling that road today to take pictures and ask questions, though Marjolaine called it more of a symbolic than fact-finding mission.
When asked what information she hoped to discover, she said: “Nothing.”
Visiting Cambodia for the first time, Marjolaine, who travelled with her husband, Louis Bachelot, would never had made it were it not for a chance encounter with a French expatriate living in Phnom Penh.
Arnaud Roux, a writer for the French-language site Asie Info, said he was driving by the monument one day when he happened to see Caron’s name.
“When I was a teenager, I said I want to be like Gilles Caron,” he said.
Roux reached out to his widow to see if she knew about the monument. After exchanging emails with the rest of the family, Roux said the plan for a photo and a visit came together.
The fact that Caron’s photo is the only one on the monument did not sit well with Chhang Song, a former Lon Nol information minister who helped devise the idea for the monument.
“This is a memorial to all the journalists who were killed in Cambodia, not just the French. [In] the front you have all the names, and the back of the memorial is empty. We did that on purpose,” he said in a telephone interview from his home in Long Beach, California.
But Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith, who attended the ceremony, said there is plenty of space for families to add an image, and it only enhances the monument.
“You had only the name, now you have the photo.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Joe Freeman at [email protected]