Kèp, seaside resort [ Cambodia ]
Located on the south coast of Cambodia, Kèp was a thriving resort town for the French colonists and the Cambodian high society until the 1960s. King Sihanouk’s favourite holiday place, Kèp received the impulse given by the plan for urbanism and tourism promoted by the party during independence in 1953 : the Sangkum Reastr Niyum. Since Cambodia’s golden age, 50 years of political disorder have shattered both the country and its population.
In 1975, Phnom Penh fell into the hands of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge. Supported by China, these Mao-inspired Communist rebels set up the Angkar, a radical authoritarian regime aiming at purifying the country from urban civilisation. Within the space of one night, all the inhabitants of the capital were thrown out. Most of them were sent to rehabilitation camps. The systematic tracking of old elites, added to the mines placed by both sides, malnutrition and illnesses provoked mass massacres. This “self-destruction” of the Khmer – the UN still has not officially recognised the acts as a genocide – led to the death of nearly two million people.
Further south, Kèp received the same treatment as the capital : the sea-side activities of foreign colonists and Cambodian aristocracy were in total contradiction with the ideology advocated by the Angkar. The touristic town became a real ghost city and the dozens of rich mansions built according to the French colonial model were quickly invaded by vegetation.
The troubled period and intense famine that came after the Pol Pot era largely contributed to looting : everything that had been the mansions’ wealth, from the ceramic tiles to the last copper filament, was sold for a ludicrous price among the nextdoor liberators and invaders: the Vietnamese. As for the worthy furniture and door frames, they had long disappeared after having been used as wood for heating.
Since the departure of the Vietnamese forces in 1989 and the arrival of the UN forces at the beginning of the 1990s, Cambodia is slowly getting back some of its autonomy and has become respectable again : tourism can start revigorating the region; a handful of ancient colonial mansions have been restored and converted into luxurious hotels. But on the nearby plots of land, poor families live on the ruins, the title deed of which they often do not hold. Together with corruption, the issue concerning land and registers is a major problem inherited from the Khmer Rouge disaster: the violence of real estate speculation follows that of fighting and looting...
Photographs & writings : Pierre-Yves BRUNAUD / Picturetank
[ except for the old pictures, extracted from the « Photo Souvenirs » album of Prince Norodom Sihanouk for the Kingdom of Cambodia ]