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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story

A MEASURE OF OUR TIMES

They were heroes, scoundrels, reformers. Some left us considerably richer, others left us infinitely poorer


Other last farewells

POL POT In the end, he just looked like a frail old man. He couldn't walk by himself. His voice had worn out; his hands trembled. Pol Pot had lost command of the Khmer Rouge. But not before ordering the assassination of a longtime comrade and 16 members of his family. The remaining leaders had turned against Pol Pot, and he was finally, fatefully exposed in July 1997 after hiding for years in the remote jungles of northern Cambodia. After a show trial by his former cadres, he was convicted of treason and placed under house arrest in a makeshift camp near the Thai border. They even used him as leverage in negotiations with advancing government troops. But in April, as the talks failed, 73-year-old Pol Pot died in his sleep, apparently from a heart attack. The man responsible for the deaths of an estimated two million people, for the ruin of a country, never showed remorse. It was 23 years ago, in 1975, that the soft-spoken radical set about transforming Cambodia into what he called a utopian agrarian society. He proclaimed it Year Zero, banned private property, money and religion and resettled the entire population into rural collectives. The country's educated elite were summarily executed - countless others succumbed to disease and starvation. Ousted from power by the invading Vietnamese army in 1979, Pol Pot fled with his rebel army into the northern jungles, where the Khmer Rouge continued to fight the government for nearly two decades.

Born Saloth Sar in 1925 to a landowning family in a small village, he was educated at a Buddhist monastery and French schools before winning a scholarship to study electronics in Paris in 1949. There he fell in with a group of left-wing radicals and other overseas Cambodians who would eventually form the senior ranks of the Khmer Rouge. He returned to Cambodia in 1953 and slowly rose in the ranks of the underground Communist Party, becoming its leader in the early 1960s. He spent much of that decade hiding in the remote north of the country; it was then that he came to envy the hill tribes' simple, communal way of life. He never abandoned his vision or apologized for the Khmer Rouge's extraordinary violence. Only months before his death, Pol Pot denied any wrongdoing during his four-year reign of terror, saying: "My conscience is clear." He stole so much from Cambodians. In the end, he cheated them of justice too.

FABIAN VER He took his secrets to the grave. Gen. Fabian Ver, opposite page, could have answered the many questions that still surround the 1983 assassination of Philippine opposition leader Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino. Few were more deeply entrenched in the corrupt network of family and political ties that flourished during Ferdinand Marcos's rule than his armed forces chief of staff (and cousin). Indeed, many still suspect it was Ver who masterminded Aquino's murder. Ver was the enforcer, willing to protect the dictator from his enemies, real or perceived, at any cost. The general's unquestioning loyalty was richly rewarded: Marcos gave him an indefinite reprise from retirement in 1976 and later pushed out Gen. Fidel Ramos to clear the way to the top military job. Ver's extended tenure demoralized younger officers. It was these soldiers who later turned against the president and played a key role in his overthrow. Ver fled into exile in Hawaii with Marcos in 1986. He never returned to the Philippines; indeed, his whereabouts were unknown to most until the news of his death from emphysema in Bangkok last month. Ver was 78. The discussion in Manila over an appropriate farewell was bitter. Military leaders finally decided that the long-serving general should receive a simple funeral with stripped-down honors. Most Filipinos agreed that Ver deserved nothing more.

THE TRISAKTI STUDENTS They didn't think they were putting themselves in harm's way May 12. The four young men joined what was supposed to be a peaceful demonstration in Jakarta against then-president Suharto. It was their first political act. The students sang the national anthem, lowered the flag to half-mast and called on Suharto to take responsibility for Indonesia's economic crisis and step down. At day's end some refused to return to campus; eventually they were persuaded. As the protest was winding down, the police charged, lobbed tear gas, swung batons and opened fire. The students fought back from inside the campus, throwing rocks and bottles at the police. Hendriawan Sie, 20, was the first victim, shot in the neck. He died on the way to the hospital. Elang Mulya Lesmana, 19, was shot in the chest and died on campus. Hafidhin Royan, 21, was shot in the head and died at the hospital. Hery Hartanto, 21, was shot in the back as he stopped to wash tear gas from his eyes. He died on campus. Dozens of others were wounded. As the violence at Trisakti subsided that evening, it began elsewhere in the city. During the next two days, Jakarta was torn apart, most likely by design. More than a thousand people died, ethnic-Chinese women were raped, stores and homes were burned. When it was over, Suharto gave up power. His successor, B.J. Habibie, called the four young men killed at Trisakti "reform heroes." No one had wished that for them.

CHATICHAI CHOONHAVAN He served as Thai prime minister for less than three years before he was ousted in a military coup in 1991. His administration was troubled by allegations of corruption and mismanagement. A dissatisfied public dubbed his ministers the "buffet cabinet." He was passionate about sports cars and fine wines; he wore silk shirts and dismissed criticism with a trademark "no problem." But Chatichai, top, who died in May, aged 78, was more than just another general-turned-politico (backed by a sizable bank account). As prime minister, Chatichai cut bureaucracy, helped curtail the military's influence in politics and encouraged the economic boom of the late 1980s. He was the country's youngest general at age 32 and won praise as a brilliant strategist during World War II. But after trying to defend the government against a (successful) coup in 1958, he was exiled to diplomatic posts around the world for the next 15 years. He didn't seem to mind. "Six years in Argentina was paradise," Chatichai said. "I played polo every day, then went to cocktail parties before going home at six or seven in the morning." After he was removed as prime minister, Chatichai tried to make a comeback. But lingering image problems killed his hopes, and he settled for minor roles in a number of coalition governments. He made a final grab for power late last year, when PM Chavalit Yongchaiyudh resigned, but by then Chatichai was past his prime.

YANG SHANGKUN The ambitious general, above, once the most powerful in the Chinese army, was known for many things, not the least of which was his opposition to President Jiang Zemin. As a party elder, Yang felt free to express his objections, particularly about Jiang's intention to divest the PLA of its civilian business holdings. He was one of the "immortal" founders of the communist state, a hero, but he wasn't given the status of such revolutionaries as Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. His career spanned the Long March, the war against the Japanese, Mao's political campaigns and the crackdown on demonstrators in Tiananmen Square in 1989. At the height of his power, in the 1980s, Yang served as vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission, which gave him control of the army's day-to-day operations. He used his position to prepare for a power grab to succeed Deng. But Deng designated Jiang as China's next leader, and Yang was too old to mount a credible challenge. Yang would have been content to be a backroom power-broker. But Jiang wouldn't countenance that. Some believe that the general, 92, died from frustration.

KUROSAWA AKIRA In life he was called the "emperor"; after his death in September a "pictorial Shakespeare." Both the epithet and the epitaph strain to convey the impact Kurosawa Akira, above, made on cinema. With Rashomon (which won an Oscar in 1950), he confronted Western audiences with a new aesthetic, a rich, fully formed cinema. Some Japanese critics, though, preferred a colder, classical approach. They said his kinetic style was tainted by Hollywood, that his art peddled Japanese culture as exotica. Yet for two decades, historical epics such as The Seven Samurai and Yojimbo were adored by Japanese audiences and subjected to Hollywood remakes. But in the 1970s, his increasingly idiosyncratic style fell out of favor at home. The West embraced him all the closer. George Lucas attributes the spine of the Star Wars' plot to a Kurosawa film. Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan owes a great debt to the visceral power of Kurosawa's battle scenes. Kurosawa always spoke the language of humanity and honor. When the 80-year-old director received an Oscar for lifetime achievement in 1990, he said that he had not yet earned it.

MAHBUB UL HAQ, 64, put social well-being back on the economic agenda. The former Pakistani finance minister created the U.N.'s human development index to measure such things as a country's literacy rate, life expectancy and the economic status of women. The index is now as essential an indicator of a nation's development as GDP.

CHEUNG TZE-KEUNG, 43, the Hong Kong crime boss known as "Big Spender" won even more notoriety after he was arrested in China. First because it was revealed that he had kidnapped two prominent Hong Kong businessmen for ransoms totaling $211 million. Then because he was tried, convicted and executed in China, even though he committed the crimes in Hong Kong.

PERSIS KHAMBATTA, 49, became one of the first Asians to surmount Hollywood's ethnic barriers when she was cast as the bald navigator in the 1979 hit Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The former Miss India returned to Bombay and in 1996 published a book about the lives of other beautiful Indian women. She had suffered from heart trouble and died of cardiac arrest.

ISMAIL MOHAMED ALI, 79, governor of Malaysia's central bank for 18 years, didn't hesitate to use monetary policy to further the government's goals. He extended credit to farmers and entrepreneurs, helping to propel Malaysia's modernization.

NGUYEN VAN LINH, 82, was the architect of doi moi, Vietnam's policy of economic reform. Linh condemned corruption, freed state factories and encouraged the private sector. But he was less sanguine about political freedom, saying in 1989: "We do not tolerate pluralism."

CHEY JONG HYON, 68, was chairman of the SK Group - Korea's fifth-largest conglomerate - and head of the powerful Federation of Korean Industries. He encouraged fellow business titans to think globally.


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