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The Cambodian insurrection

Exasperated by the prevarication of King Norodom, who did not wish to undertake reforms, on 17th June 1884, Thomson, the Governor General, entered his palace by force and obliged him to sign a convention that handed over the management of internal affairs to France and imposed French protection on Cambodia. On 7th January 1885, the revolt broke out. The Si-Si-Votha partisans attacked Sambor and killed the French lieutenant there, a man named Bellanger. Over the course of a few days, all of Cambodia was in revolt. The way in which this happened was the same everywhere. Armed men would arrive in a village, take away the able-bodied men, and kill or destroy the homes of those who refused to follow them. The French were unable to assert themselves. The insurgents were the masters of the forests and paddy-fields, where they lay in ambush, fleeing direct confrontation. The quelling of the revolt was brutal; the French columns, which were ill-prepared for guerrilla warfare, pillaged and destroyed indiscriminately. The revolt, which was above all directed against France, was complex, because opponents of the king and the mandarins who wished to defend the traditional order, all allied themselves to it. The small port of Kampot that was so dear to Pavie was one of the main seats of the rebellion; the telegraph station and the opium depot were ransacked. According to Klobukowski, this was the work of Prince Duong Chac, the third son of the king: "Endowed with every vice, having the intelligence of evil, this young man is possessed of a blind hatred towards us."

Pavie spoke little of the Cambodian revolt in his works. "The Sambor affair," he wrote, "had regrettable repercussions in Cambodia and served the campaign that the agitators conducted there for some time telling the people that the treaty of 17th June 1884 oppressed the king and was contrary to the interests of the country, and that if there had been a protest movement in Cambodia against this act, the government of the Republic would not have ratified it." However, he offered a very pertinent analysis of the causes. The first residents in Cambodia had arrived with Annamite staff "from the interpreters to the militiamen", which had caused them a great deal of harm, considering the hatred that these two ethnic groups felt towards one another. Finally, in scarcely courteous terms, Pavie pointed the finger at the blindness of the French administration in Cambodia, overtly criticising the Resident, Fourès. "Administrators in France must, I suppose, see things close at hand. I imagine that in a country such as Indochina, a short-sighted administrator could far better manage an office than rule over Cambodia, for example. What can one say about this poor, intelligent, yet limited boy, who did not foresee what has happened and who watched over the protectorate for three years without preparing the means of ensuring that when the time came our activities were indelibly established. Who, above all, invested all of his powers in finding out if the Europeans in his residence had relationships with the king or mandarins, and who did not establish any such relationships himself. Who after 4 years in Phnom Penh has not yet had occasion to visit the governors of the provinces but who knows five of them because they were dealt with by his court!" But Pavie had the complete confidence of Governor General Thomson, who charged him with accompanying his principle private secretary Klobukowski on his tour of the provinces from March 1885.