Khmer Rouge Cafe Closed by Government

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.


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