Phnom Penh’s recently opened Khmer Rouge-theme restaurant, which promised to give diners a taste of life in Cambodia under the Pol Pot regime, was shut down by government officials on Saturday, officials said.
Tourism Minister Lay Prohas said Sunday that L’histoire Cafe, located across the street from the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, was closed because it lacked a proper restaurant license. Vowing to keep it closed, Lay Prohas said the restaurant was in poor taste and historically inaccurate.
“The cafe owner exploited the souls of Cambodians who were killed,” Ly Prohas said. “The restaurant confuses Cambodians and tourists because the restaurant serves porridge—during the Khmer Rouge, there were no restaurant and there was no porridge to eat,” he said.
“Cambodia is a free market country, but the restaurant is so bizarre that we cannot allow it.”
The restaurant, which opened about two weeks ago, was akin to a promotion for the Khmer Rouge regime, one that gives young people a more positive impression of the 1975-1979 era than that era deserves, Lay Prohas added. “The young Cambodian generation doesn’t need that kind of cafe,” he said.
Five waitresses lounging on the floor of the L’histoire Cafe on Sunday afternoon said they were now unemployed unless the restaurant is allowed to reopen. At night, they had doubled as traditional Khmer masseuses, but the La Cigale Bleue massage parlor which shared the same building as the restaurant has also been closed, they said.
The waitresses said that the business was not intended to denigrate the memory of the more than 1 million victims of the regime, but had an educational quality.
“I am glad I got to experience the Khmer Rouge regime by serving the customers. I didn’t know what the Khmer Rouge served people to eat before,” said waitress Noy Eang, 20.
Owner Hakpry Sochivan, 24, said Sunday he was surprised and saddened to learn that the Ministry of Tourism wanted his cafe closed permanently. The eight municipal officials who visited him Saturday had only said it was to be closed temporarily, he said.
“My cafe is not too extreme,” he said. “The government always airs ‘The Killing Fields’ [movie] on TV every Jan 7 and this film shows killing. Why does the government allow the film and not this cafe?” he asked.
“My cafe is a little bit strange, but it is not 100 percent inappropriate,” he said, adding that he worried about the livelihoods of his eight employees.