Photographer’s Daughter Unveils Memorial

Marjolaine Caron has two very distinct memories of her father. One is of him taking her to a cafe in Paris; he read the newspaper. Another is when they went to the cinema together.

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Marjolaine Caron, daughter of French journalist and photographer Gilles Caron, who went missing on National Road 1 in April 1970, stands with her husband Louis Bachelot, as they present a book of Gilles Caron’s work in Phnom Penh yesterday. (Lauren Crothers/The Cambodia Daily)

“I remember the moments I was alone with him,” she said yesterday, standing a few steps away from a black and white portrait of her late father, the renowned French journalist and war photographer Gilles Caron, who disappeared in Cambodia on April 5, 1970.

The portrait was taken of Gilles Caron on a ferry at Neak Leung the day before he went missing along with another French journalist, Guy Hannoteaux, and French law professor Michel Visot. They were traveling on National Road 1 in the east of the country, which was controlled at the time by Vietnamese communist forces and the Khmer Rouge.

Gilles Caron was 30 at the time; Marjolaine Caron was just 7.

Like so many of the journalists killed in Cambodia at that time—photojournalists Sean Flynn and Dana Stone went missing the next day on the same road—Gilles Caron’s remains have never been found.

A memorial was erected in May near the Hotel Le Royal in Phnom Penh to honor the 37 journalists who died covering the civil war in the 1970s. Many reporters and photographers would stay at Le Royal while on assignment up until the fall of Phnom Penh in 1975.

Yesterday, a marble plaque dedicated to Gilles Caron was mounted on the back of the memorial to the fallen journalists and was unveiled by his daughter at a ceremony attended by Information Minister Khieu Kanharith, along with veteran war photojournalists Al Rockoff and Tim Page, and former Reuters correspondent James Pringle.

The plaque is one way of honoring Gilles Caron’s legacy in Cambodia, but there are many unanswered questions, Ms. Caron, who is now 49, said after lighting incense under her father’s picture.

“When I arrived and the plane landed, I was feeling very oppressed,” she said. “It was very hard for me—I was crying. I didn’t think I could come to this country. Because I didn’t think I could do anything to find him. I would like to find some bones or something. I would like it very much, because we have nothing,” Ms. Caron said.

“Maybe somebody knows something,” she said. “Maybe. I think about it, but what can I do?”

While several senior government officials served with Khmer Rouge forces in the east of the country where Gilles Caron and other foreign journalists went missing during the 1970s, Mr. Kanharith said anyone who might have information about their fate was most likely purged during the regime.

“Vietnam made an offensive in Cambodia,” Mr. Kanharith said. “In five years of fighting, more journalists were killed than in 10 years in Vietnam.

“Maybe the Vietnamese know about this,” he added.

Mr. Kanharith, who helped fund the memorial, said relatives of other journalists commemorated are also welcome to erect pictures of their loved ones.

Ms. Caron’s husband Louis Bachelot, the director of the Gilles Caron Foundation, said the visit has been cathartic.

“The main thing is we want to speak about the freedom of the media, and I think I realized when I arrived, that Gilles Caron was a great journalist, not just a photographer, and he was the one who can explain the beginning of this third Indochine war,” Mr. Bachelot said.

“For us coming here it felt impossible because there was no news [about Gilles Caron’s remains]. We just knew that he was on Road Number 1. Coming here is a therapy for Marjolaine, and it’s a good thing for the foundation.”

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