The man who photographed S-21 prison inmates by the thousands before their deaths is one step closer to losing the building permits for his self-styled Khmer Rouge museum, Oddar Meanchey provincial officials said Thursday.
During an inspection Wednesday, provincial Secretary-General Pa Ramin discovered that former prison photographer Nhem En hasn’t yet begun construction on the museum, giving the province grounds to revoke his permits.
“If we’re talking about the law, no matter who seeks permission to build, the groundbreaking ceremony must be held as soon as possible…. The provincial authority has the legal right and duty to cancel his license,” Mr Pa Ramin said.
He added that he did not yet know for certain that the permits will be revoked, “but up to the present time, Nhem En has not appeared to sit down with us to tell us the root cause for the delay in groundbreaking.”
Oddar Meanchey Provincial Governor Pich Sokhin said Thursday that members of his staff are still looking into the project.
He added that he remains opposed to Mr Nhem En’s plan to auction off, at a starting price of $500,000, two cameras reportedly used at notorious S-21, as well as a pair of revolutionary sandals that allegedly belonged to the Pol Pot.
“In principle, the auction must be called off,” Mr Pich Sokhin said.
Reached by telephone Thursday, Mr Nhem En said, “The threat to cancel the construction license is just an excuse, because those officials are unhappy about my auction plan.”
The former photographer, who is now Anlong Veng deputy district governor, said that he would not meet with provincial officials.
“They all know pretty clearly that I am seeking capital for the museum building,” Mr Nhem En said of his auction.
Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, said Thursday that he supports the museum project, but that Mr Nhem En needs to stop treating it as a one-man crusade.
“To put the idea into reality, he needs support,” Mr Youk Chhang said.
“Right now, his permit is going to be revoked, he might lose his job [as deputy district governor], and no one is going to buy [Pol Pot’s] shoes,” he added.