The past isn’t past

Sebastian Strangio

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Lumphat in 2012. Photograph: Sebastian Strangio

Lumphat seemed forsaken by time. Stretched out along a bend of the Srepok River, this former town was now little more than a village, a mere sprinkling of civilisation in a landscape of red earth and pantone blue skies.

In the 1950s and 1960s, under Prince Norodom Sihanouk, the sleepy hamlet served as the provincial capital of Ratanakiri, an administrative outpost in the northeast of Cambodia. Until the late 1960s, when it was wiped off the map by American B-52 bombings, Lumphat sat at the frontier of the advancing Cambodian state: it had dirt roads laid out in a rough grid, with a Buddhist pagoda, a school and a few government buildings. On maps of the time it was marked by a black dot and, often, by a tiny picture of an aircraft, denoting the rudimentary airstrip that served as its main link to the outside world.

Lumphat never recovered from the bombings and the war, nor from the Khmer Rouge revolution that followed. After the ousting of the Khmer Rouge in 1979, a new provincial capital was established at Banlung, some fifteen kilometres to the north, and Lumphat was left to slumber.

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