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Pol Pot, Khmer Rouge Leader, Reported Dead in Cambodia

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Pol Pot, the notorious Khmer Rouge leader who presided over the deaths of more than a million people in “the killing fields” of Cambodia, has been reported dead by his Khmer Rouge guards.

The guerrilla leader, who had become a prisoner of his former comrades after losing a power struggle last year, reportedly died in his sleep of a heart attack Wednesday in northern Cambodia near the Thai border, his guard, Nuon Nou, told Associated Press. Pol Pot’s wife discovered he was dead before midnight Wednesday when she was tying a mosquito net around the bed of her white-haired husband, Nuon Nou reported. He reportedly suffered from malaria.

It is not the first time Pol Pot, who has been protected by shadow and rumor while hiding in the jungle, has been reported dead in recent years, causing many to be skeptical of Wednesday night’s reports.

In Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital, government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said the death of Pol Pot, whose reported age has ranged from 69 to 73, could neither be confirmed nor denied.

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“We request whoever has his body to turn it over to the government,” he told reporters. He added that an autopsy would have to be conducted to determine if the former leader died of natural causes.

Over the last two weeks, the Khmer Rouge, and their former leader-turned-captive, have been battling for their existence in the jungle stronghold of Anlong Veng in northern Cambodia. Government forces have been closing in on the remnants of the guerrilla group living in a heavily mined, hilly area, and the Khmer Rouge has offered Pol Pot in exchange for their freedom. Last week, President Clinton ordered U.S. agencies to proceed with plans to capture Pol Pot and bring him to justice in an international tribunal.

Hours after reports of Pol Pot’s death, a senior Cambodian army commander vowed today to flush out the last remnants of his once-feared guerrilla force.

“I don’t know. I don’t have any information about Pol Pot,” said Gen. Chea Saron, chief of army operations, when asked about reports of Pol Pot’s death. “But we still plan to liberate remaining pockets of territory under the control of the hard-liners,” he said.

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If Pol Pot is indeed dead, his passing marks the end of one of this century’s most monstrous and macabre social experiments.

Pol Pot began his 44-month reign of terror, from 1975 to 1979, 23 years ago Friday, when Khmer Rouge soldiers marched into Phnom Penh and declared that a new era had begun. Pol Pot aimed to wipe out the past in Cambodia and start a new utopia, with 1975 being renamed “Year Zero.” Instead, the experiment transmogrified into a nightmare era of executions, torture and starvation that claimed the lives of more than 1 million Cambodians.

His reign of terror ended with Vietnam’s invasion in 1979, and Pol Pot escaped into the jungle with a cadre of comrades, where he has been living in stealth ever since.

Last year, his lieutenants started secret peace talks with the government behind his back, which sparked a bloody power struggle. A rival faction of his longtime comrades overpowered him and judged him in a Communist-style show trial, sentencing him to life under house arrest.

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Though close to tears during the “trial,” Pol Pot showed no remorse for his past deeds. His “conscience is clear,” he told Nate Thayer, an American journalist brought in to Anlong Veng to witness Pol Pot’s ouster. “I want you to know that everything I did, I did for my country.”


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