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CAMBODIA

The end of the insurrection

The military operations ended in late 1886. As Adhémard Leclère, who was appointed Resident in Kampot in 1886 wrote, it was necessary to "repopulate this abandoned country and in order to repopulate it seek out the population that had been terrorised." "I had brought back to us over 40 villages that had fled and all around Kampot the reconstruction effort was underway; the agglomerations of the poor began to re-form. But what troubles I experienced, what fatigue I had to overcome to achieve this result. The poor people lived in the bush, in the forests far from the familiar roads that our columns were able to travel along, tricked by the mandarins, threatened, they feared us as much, if not more than the tiger. They had been told that we had only gone to war so that we could seize the Cambodians, take them prisoner and return them to France on our fireships (cabal pleung) where we would sell them like butcher’s meat for 200 to 250 piastres […]. The abandoned paddy-fields were left fallow and already everywhere the bush was encroaching, the banks that were supposed to keep in the water were crumbling under the influence of the rains and grass grew on the tracks that previously had been so well-used."

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"I left in the morning on horseback followed by a chief of the militia who could act as interpreter for me and I went as far as the camp of unfortunates that I wished to bring back with me. I arrived unarmed and alone and after an hour of discussions everything was arranged. By nightfall every family had been won over to our cause, and the following day the band set about moving. They reached the location of their old village, found it still there and began to settle in, and a fortnight later the houses had been rebuilt and repopulated. The women were my best assistants. It was they who helped me the most. Courageous because their children were sick, because they had already lost one, two or three and feared losing the others, they pushed the men to accept my proposals, to return to their villages, to rebuild them and go back to their rice fields. Everyone wanted peace and I achieved it, but without noise, without publicity, without telling the world. I did not have a single submission signed on the register opened by my predecessors and which contained four signatures. I took no other precaution but that of travelling often in the countryside, of showing myself everywhere, of going to all the villages, either alone or with my little girl on horseback, both of us galloping, drinking from the coconut shells that were offered to us or eating raw the fresh eggs that the poor women had found that morning."

To listen, understand and behave with gentleness, "governing by making use of the king and rebuilding his prestige" were the new instructions given by General Bégin. This was also the policy championed to Adhémard Leclère by the Resident, Bégin. C'est aussi la politique défendue par le résident Piquet. "We did not know Cambodia, and it is through ignorance that we have committed the errors for which we can be reproached. Study the habits of the Cambodian people, the laws of the kingdom, the local customs and the language of the country, and put yourself in the position of one day being able to do what is asked of you. There are many injustices to put right; examine them, find the means of eliminating them and tell me. […] Convince yourself of this: I only wish to act peacefully and through the King because I wish to use neither the army nor violence. It is by persuasion that I wish to lead the King to give us everything; he will remain the highly respected King of the Khmers, very formidable, but the country that has been reorganised by us in compliance with the national customs and moulded by us will be lifted out of the profound misery into which it has fallen. To achieve this goal the General Resident must be in agreement with the King and in the provinces the provincial Residents must be in agreement with the indigenous governors. You will understand now the policy that we wish to pursue here. It is a policy of peace, initiation, complete patience and perseverance […] Before five years have passed we shall have everything that we seem to have abandoned today. But remember that I wish to respect Cambodian habits, their religion, customs and laws, and to a certain extent and for a certain time, the privileges conceded by the old kings."

From 1st January 1887, France refrained from enforcing the entirety of the convention of 1884. This return to royal power was sharply criticised by Pavie, who had left Cambodia some months previously, but who continued to keep an eye on the situation. "I am sending you a letter from Coulgeans in Cambodia," he wrote to Le Myre de Vilers. "It is all a reaction. We are making a mistake. Returning authority to Norodom is to allow this scoundrel to crush all those who served us, it would be to continue this lamentable tradition of certain withdrawal in the face of any kind of resistance. It is to take away any confidence that the indigenous people might have in us, it is almost saying to them that in the event of future conflict their place is assuredly against us no matter what their aspirations. It is to darken the horizon of our future in Indochina, I am thoroughly convinced that it is more to sabotage more effectively the unfortunate Governor who has the responsibility for what happens than with the thought of serving France. If we acknowledge that we are on the wrong track, I think too that we should see that Norodom is not the right man. If we wish to return authority to the king, then let it be to another, such a change would at least establish in the eyes of the population that we are the stronger party. Norodom has never been France’s friend, he has always considered her to be a tyrant. He feared the representative of the protectorate before 17th June, he no longer fears him now…"