The Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies aims to share Cambodia’s hard-won lessons from the UNTAC era at a new museum, the Cambodia Peace Museum in Siem Reap. Words by Erin Hale.
As Cambodia celebrates 25 years since the signing of the 1991 Paris Peace Accords, a new museum in Siem Reap hopes to share the Kingdom’s lessons on how to rebuild after decades of conflict.
With the aim of breaking ground in 2018, the much-anticipated Cambodia Peace Museum will provide visitors with a chance to learn about successful peace-building strategies and how they can be applied to contemporary conflicts.
“The museum will deal with the conflicts of the 20th century, but that’s not the main part,” says Nikki Singer, of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (CPCS). “It’s more about explaining how those conflicts emerged and what the underlying driving forces were. But the majority of the space will be dedicated to peace-building approaches of the last 25 years.”
The Cambodia Peace Museum will be built and run by CPCS in Siem Reap, a Cambodian NGO founded in 2008 that researches and shares different peace-building techniques. With a number of long-running ethnic and religious conflicts simmering across Southeast Asia, from Myanmar to the Philippines, it offers a much needed space to consider positive approaches to conflict resolution.
While the centre is run with financial assistance from organisations, such as the Royal Norwegian Embassy, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the European Union, the museum is still in the fundraising and planning phase. A gala masquerade event on Oct. 22 at Siem Reap’s Le Meridien Angkor will help towards funding the project, which is planned for a location close to the Angkor Archaeological Park – an easy spot for tourists – or the site of Phare, the Cambodian Circus, on the outskirts of Siem Reap. Phare and the centre have collaborated on events in the past, and the circus will perform at the upcoming gala.
Conceptually, the museum will have four main sections: the history and geopolitical context of Cambodia’s conflicts, the civil war and Khmer Rouge era, rebuilding under the United Nationals Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC), and the role the Kingdom now plays assisting in peacekeeping missions and landmine clearance around the word. While some plans have been drawn up, the final designs won’t be revealed until the location is finalised.
The museum will be aimed at young Khmers, with exhibits in Khmer and English, but Singer said they also hope to attract visitors from across Asia – especially those involved in peace-building processes in their home countries. “We are trying to create a space for people to come from other parts of Asia and the world; people who are also working on conflicts, to come and learn about what happened here. They can say, “Ok, this is the model Cambodia used, can it be applied in Myanmar, in the Philippines, in Syria?”,” says Singer.
To celebrate the anniversary of the Paris Peace Accords, the Centre has teamed up with the Constable Gallery at Large in Siem Reap to host the exhibition RESILIENCE: A Photography Exhibition from Oct. 1 to Nov. 30. It will showcase prints from photographers, including John Rodsted, an Australian photojournalist whose work has focused heavily on the impact of landmines in conflicts throughout the globe. While they hope to one day hang these images in the Peace Museum, this month’s exhibition allows visitors to see them all in one place alongside the work of Tim Page, a British photographer who shot iconic images of the Vietnam War. RESILIENCE will also feature thee works of contemporary British photojournalist George Nickels, whose work focuses on social issues in Cambodia.
The photographs will hang alongside reproductions of articles that appeared in the Phnom Penh Post between 1992 and 1993, documenting the UNTAC era, according to Sarah Constable, who runs Constable Gallery. “I thought it would be interesting for people to have a more informative show so that they can read about issues at the time rather than just looking at a photographic image. There’s a lot about the elections, peace building, demining, and repatriation is a big theme,” she says.
While Oct. 23 will be an important celebration for the centre and the future of the museum, the goal, as ever, is to always look forward, says Singer. “We are trying to create a space where you can talk about what happened in Cambodia, without only talking about what happened during the Khmer Rouge. We want to give a more positive focus of how did the country and how have people come out of that conflict and how have they healed.”