Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Sacravatoons no 1366 : " April 17,1975 .....and Champagne "
Issue # 1353 (May 3, 1975)
On the eve of the fall of Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975, Sihanouk who took refuge in Beijing since he was
deposed by the Cambodian National Assembly and the Council of the Kingdom on March 18, 1970, gave a reception
to Mr. Alain Peyrefitte, the former minister of General de Gaulle. Their talk was published in the French
magazine “Paris Match”, No. 1353, dated May 3, 1975. A large excerpt of this talk is provided below:
“On September 1st, 1966, in Phnom Penh , the capital of a free and peaceful Cambodia , General de Gaulle
publicly condemned (he did it confidentially since 1960 without anybody in the world ever heard about it) the
US military intervention in Vietnam . He countered this US policy, which he claimed to be doomed with catastrophe,
with the exemplary policy of neutrality maintained since 1954 by the young head of state who welcomed
him: Prince Norodom Sihanouk.
The US underestimated Norodom Sihanouk’s personality. After chasing him out, he was thrown into the
hands of the Khmer Rouge who, up to then, fought against him. When things turn sour, the US tried to separate
Norodom Sihanouk from the Khmer Rouge. It was a lost cause! The US have hooked him up with the Khmer
Rouge “in life as well as in death (i.e. for eternity)”, as he said it in his own words.
I met the prince in Beijing where he took refuge after the coup d’état perpetrated against him while he was
Since 1971, the Chinese had magnificently installed him in the former French Embassy. He turned this sumptuous
palace into the center of Cambodian resistance. He warmly received me, accompanied by Maurice Papon and
Albert Marcenet. During two hours, he tiredlessly showed us, with his expressive mimics, his outburst of voice,
his picturesque verbal inventions, that nothing would cut into his determination.
“I am General de Gaulle,” he declared to me, “the General de Gaulle in London .” The contrast between this
chubby small man and the memory of the thin giant brought smiles to our faces.
“But of course,” he explained to us sharply, “like him, I have only one goal: to free my country, only one
mean: to make war, to coordinate the resistance, to revive the courage by talking to the heart of my people. At
the beginning, de Gaulle also was alone, nobody believed in him. Little by little, they joined him from all over
the places. The Chinese welcome me just like the British welcomed him; I am their guest, I am not their man, no
more than he was the host of the British.”
- The Khmer Rouge are communists, I noted.
- That’s true; but they have to go through me because I embody the legitimacy. They need me, and I know
that Cambodia needs them. I will tell the Cambodian people and they will believe me.
- Are you becoming communist, Your Highness?
- No, I don’t think so, in our Southeast Asia , communism has its good sides. You can see what is happening
in China . Furthermore, there is no choice. After what the Americans did, I have only one choice, that one.
- Fidel Castro in Havana, told me more or less the same thing: “I was never a Marxist-Leninist, but the US
embargo took away from me all other possibilities except this one.”
Norodom Sihanouk invited us to pick up the ivory chopsticks to eat fried shrimps. Suddenly pensive, he started
again: “After the victory, I will stay only maybe six months. It is not important. I will accomplish my duty. I
will have led the resistance. I will have liberated my homeland. I will be able to leave. De Gaulle did not remain
either. If the Khmer Rouge think they no longer need me when the enemy will be chased out, and the country
pacified, I will not hold on. I will then ask France to welcome me in the Midi for the rest of my days.”
He took his breath for a short while before continuing with rage, and this time, his rage had a self-criticism
tone to it: “There was too much corruption. There has always been, but with the Americans, now, the corruption
has triumphed, it has spread all over. They symbolize the corruption. Everybody think only about money. From
the top to the bottom, it is embezzlement of public funds, breach of trust, corruption, servitude. They sell their
souls for dollars. But every cloud has a silver lining. We were already corrupt and we did not know it. Now, we
know and we find the strength to cleanse ourselves. The Americans create the hate of corruption because everything
they symbolized is hated.”
His chopsticks quickly dropped in my plate some pieces of roast duck: “ Phnom Penh ,” he continued, “wallowed
itself up in collaboration. It is an infected wound on the innocent face of Cambodia . Queen-Mother who
abandoned me when I had my back turned, I will humiliate her. The middle-class of Phnom Penh who had
betrayed their leader and their homeland, I will humiliate them; to punish them, I will not enter the capital with
the troop, I will have them chased out first. I do not want to re-establish there after the Liberation. Instead, I will
have a wooden hut built for me in the forest of Angkor , and it will be there that people will come to visit me.
Phnom Penh is Vichy . Lon Nol is Laval . I will have him shot, of course. But, since he is Khmer, and that all
Khmer people are my children, I will have him shot with tenderness.”
We have to recognize that the prophecy is realized in large part. Lon Nol escaped the firing squad but not his
brother, it was said: Phnom Penh will be indeed humiliated, emptied of its inhabitants. And Sihanouk will put his
legitimacy and his asset to the service of communism, maybe without too much illusions on the duration and the
nature of his role.
He told me, with his flair for paradox which only serves to dress up his inner thoughts: “I do not hold a grudge
against the Americans. They would have been the agents of the Providence . They will allow Cambodia to redeem
itself. But I hold a grudge against France . Do you recall: de Gaulle held a grudge against the Americans for maintaining
an embassy in Vichy ? How can you maintain an embassy with the Phnom Penh puppets, and none with
me?” I noted to the prince that we do not recognize regimes, but countries. The presence of an embassy in Phnom
Penh simply meant that it is taking care on the spot of our citizens and our interests. “It’s the same,” he insisted,
“I will see if France will have a friendly gesture towards me.”