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Faster access in Asia

Cambodia's Pol Pot reported dead

Pol Pot
Pol Pot   
April 15, 1998
Web posted at: 9:43 p.m. EDT (0143 GMT)

BANGKOK, Thailand (CNN) -- Pol Pot, the ousted leader of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge rebels, is dead, according to Thai military sources.

He was said to have died from a heart attack. Khmer Rouge forces sent a message reporting Pol Pot's death to Thai military officials at the Cambodian-Thai border, CNN's Tom Mintier says.

Pol Pot's name came to symbolize the deaths of 2 million people under his rule in Cambodia for four horrific years: 1975 to 1979.

Senior Thai military sources told CNN they received a report of Pol Pot's death around midnight.

The sources said the cause of death was a heart attack compounded by a lack of available medical treatment. A short message from the Khmer Rouge came across the border to Thai military authorities within 45 minutes of his death.

Khmer Rouge units holding Pol Pot have been on the run in recent days following the reported collapse of their organization and the fall of their last major Cambodian outpost in Anlong Veng.

Skulls
The remains of victims of the Khmer Rouge genocide  

Pol Pot was so closely associated with the genocide of his own people that in the final days of his life, even his old Chinese and Thai friends -- who supported the Khmer Rouge during the 1980s -- refused to provide shelter to him.

Khmer Rouge forces had held Pol Pot under house arrest since June, when they ousted him in a bloody internal power struggle. They reportedly had been considering surrendering him in a bid for food, medicine and other international support.

Cambodian forces and Khmer Rouge defectors had been seeking to capture Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge remnants, recently advancing toward Cambodia's northern mountains along the Thai border to hunt for them.

The United States recently had consulted Thailand, China and other countries about efforts to capture Pol Pot and put him on trial before an international court.

Born Salorth Sar in either 1925 or 1928 to a prosperous farming family in Kampong Thum province, Pol Pot studied radio electronics in France but became more interested in Karl Marx.

In the 1950s he climbed the ranks of the Cambodian Communist party to lead it a decade later. Many attribute his rapid elevation to his charm and grace, but it may have been his ability to order executions with a smile on his face.

Pol Pot at one time was backed by both China and the United States with military assistance because the Khmer Rouge was seen as the only choice against the invading Vietnamese in the late 1970s.

But Pol Pot's rule became known as the era of the "killing fields" when the cities were emptied and about quarter of the country's 8 million people were slaughtered by the Khmer Rouge.

The killing fields
The killing fields  

A Vietnamese invasion in 1979 forced the Khmer Rouge to retreat back to the jungle.

To feel the horror of those days, one need look no further than a museum in downtown Phnom Penh. Photos snapped minutes before people's lives were snuffed out stare back at you from the walls.

What could drive a leader to kill so many? It is a question no one seems able to answer.

It apparently started in an effort to cleanse society, creating an agrarian utopia by emptying the cities and abolishing money, private property and religion.

Pol Pot will always be remembered here, his name forever synonymous with death.

 
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