Thursday, August 30, 2012

From the archives

S-21 record and photo of Andre Gaston Courtigne
The two photographs of western prisoners taken at S-21 and recently handed over to DC-Cam remain a mystery. DC-Cam are making determined efforts to track down the names of the two individuals and during their investigations, they came across a photo and documents relating to French Embassy worker Andre Gaston Courtigne that had previously not been catalogued. DC-Cam chief Youk Chang said his team found the photograph by chance while sifting through thousands of paper documents at the center, which seeks to preserve the history of Khmer Rouge genocide victims. Courtigne was known to have been one of eleven westerners killed at the Tuol Sleng interrogation center, also known as S-21. But the newly released photograph is the first known to show the Frenchman after his detention. Chang said researchers stumbled on Courtigne's image during a document search aimed at trying to identify two other western prisoners whose photographs were among hundreds donated to the center earlier this month. "This document [about Courtigne] had been in our hands [before we received the donated photographs], but we had to search for it manually because we had not catalogued it yet," he said. The Courtigne photograph was attached to several pages documenting his detention at Tuol Sleng, where the Khmer Rouge killed more than 14,000 prisoners, almost all Cambodians, after interrogating and forcing them to confess to alleged anti-regime crimes. The first page of Courtigne's file shows that the 30-year-old was arrested in Siem Reap in April 1976, when he worked as a French Embassy clerk and typist. It also shows that he was married to a Cambodian woman and had a son and a daughter. The documents listed his birthplace as Maine-et-Loire in west-central France. Below is a translation of that first file page.
1 – Name of origin: COURTIGNE, André Gaston - Alias
2 – Age: 30 Years old Nationality: French Sex: Male
3 – Place of Birth: Village: Rosiers 37 Commune: Andrezé District: Loire Province: France
4 – Ministry and role before Phnom Penh Liberation Day (in 1975): Clerk at French embassy, Typist
5 – Ministry and current role: new farmer, rice growing and herding cows
6 – Father’s name: COURTIGNE Makto Mother’s name: Nil Phorn
7 – Spouse’s name: Chhay Rasy Alias: .
8 – Place of Birth: Village: Phnom Thipdey Commune: District: Kas Kralor Province: Battambang
9 – Current Address: 

10 – Number of sons: 1 Daughter: 1
11 – Place of arrest: Kampong Kdey District (Siem Reap) 12 – Arrested on: Day 15 Month: 4 Year: 1976 House: 7 Room: 9

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Blogger TOMMY GUN said...

Interesting discovery. There has been a lot of excellent research done in recent years into the fate of the American, Australian, British and New Zealand yachtsmen who ended up at S-21 during 1978. These men probably wound up in Kampuchean waters through a combination of bad luck and naivety. That Democratic Kampuchea was a brutal regime was already being reported in the papers though it was only after the fall of the Khmer Rouge that its full horror came to light. The French prisoners who remained behind after April 1976 are a bit of an unknown quantity. Tragically, and like the young Bernard brothers, who had lived in Cambodia since 1968, Courtigne could possibly have gotten himself and his family out if they'd turned up at the embassy on time with documentary evidence of their citizenship. Maybe they were separated from other foreigners in the chaos of the evacuation. Maybe, as a Frenchman 'gone native' he thought he could blend into the new collectivised society. Also Siem Reap was under the dominance of a more pragmatic Zone leader called Khoy Thuon. Courtigne's arrest is concurrent with the purging of Koy Thoun, Chan Chakrey and the first great purge that also saw Prince Sihanouk stripped of his figurehead status and a new Standing Committee elected. Many of the very first prisoners taken to S-21 were Eurasians, Indians and Pakistanis who had neglected to evacuate the country. Since both Francois Bizot and Fr Francois Ponchaud reported seeing a few European women married to Cambodian men leaving the French embassy with their husbands, they may well have resurfaced in the prison later on

August 30, 2012 at 6:33 PM  
Blogger phnompenhpast said...

It's quite amazing to learn of foreigners who actually managed to "blend in" and remain living in DK for so long after the takeover. Tommy Gun - Who were these Bernard brothers that you mentioned?

November 27, 2012 at 11:21 PM  

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