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Cambodia 2000:
Part Seven: "There has been sporadic shooting throughout the night..."

Letter from Embassy On the morning of November 24, I wake up early, intending to go out to take a few photos. My wife is already up, and she is talking with her aunt. There has been fighting during the night. A lot of fighting. A lot of people got killed. Fighting where? I ask. Here, they reply. Here, in Phnom Penh, close by. Near the railway station.

I shrug and dismiss these as rumors or exaggerations. I want to go out, since it's our last day here, but my wife has to go visit the neighbors, and the children are still asleep. She goes out, and I wait.

Soon Pou Phon's son brings me an envelope. Inside, I find a paper bearing the seal of the US Embassy. It reads:



NOVEMBER 24, 2000

There has been sporadic shooting throughout the night. Authorities report to the Embassy that this clash was caused by a small resistance group who fought with security authorities through the night. A number were apprehended, but some remain at large. Cambodian authorities are still seeking to apprehend other people who were involved and to restore order. Until order is restored, the streets are still dangerous.

The U.S. Embassy will be closed today, Friday, November 24, 2000.

We strongly advise American citizens to remain indoors until it is clear that the authorities have restored order."

Train station, Phnom Penh My wife returns at lunchtime, and as we're eating the TV broadcasts an interview with a police commander; he says that several of the attackers were killed, and that some of his own troops were injured. According to the report, an informant within the group had tipped off police before the attack. We see footage of bloody corpses, displays of captured weapons, and a motley gang of prisoners, their heads bowed.

A few days after the attack, Agence France-Presse reports that the Cambodian government has blamed the attack on the "Cambodian Freedom Fighters," the same group that had supposedly distributed anti-government leaflets the month before. Eight people were killed, and 14 others injured; 82 others are arrested. Rumors persist that the whole incident was staged by Hun Sen as a pretense for future repression; even one acquaintance whose husband is a member of the CPP believes that the incident was nothing more than theatre.

Blossums Outside, everything seems normal. My nephew takes us to a pharmacy next to the railway station. The streets are crowded; if there is any unusual police or military presence, it isn't immediately visible.

It will be my last chance to take photos, so I grab my cameras and walk south for a block or two. A pair of young monks are walking nearby, and I put a hundred-riel note into their basket. As I'm walking, I see my nephew riding up the street on his scooter. My son is sitting in front of him, smiling broadly. I realize, suddenly, that I feel completely at ease here, as if I belong.

Monkey in Phnom Penh I walk toward Wat Phnom. On the way, I pass the National Library. On the sidewalk in front of the building, hundreds of potted plants form a small jungle; I gather that it is something of a sidewalk greenhouse. As I'm standing among the flowers, I see something moving out of the corner of my eye, and I turn. A small monkey is perched atop the fence. I snap its picture, and as the shutter clicks, it scampers up a tree. In the leaves high overhead, a family of monkeys is concealed among the upper branches.


Next: Goodbyes

This article contains nine parts:
Part 1: The Quarter-Ton World Tour
Part 2: "I See Cambodia!"
Part 3: To Kompong Som and Back
Part 4: Angkor, Snakes, and Khmer Krahom
Part 5: Artists, Pringles, and Fish in the Streets
Part 6: Two Parties
·  Part 7: "There has been sporadic shooting throughout the night..." ·
Part 8: Goodbyes
Part 9: Travelers and Conquerors

Related Articles:
Beauty and Darkness: Travel Section
Between Barbie and Murder: Cambodia, 2005
Cambodia, April - May 2000
Holiday in Cambodia
Phnom Penh, June 1996
Farther than Wisconsin: Cambodia, 1991

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