Cambodia Pol Pot

The Man Behind It All

Cambodia Pol Pot: the mere mention of PolPot's name is still enough to make a Cambodian shudder.

Cambodia is famous as the land of smiles, but these cheerful people were forced to endure decades of terror under the leader of the Cambodian communist movement known as the Khmer Rouge regime.

Early Life

Cambodia's Pol Pot was born Saloth Sar in Kampong Thom province in Cambodia around 1925. He was born into a reasonably wealthy family and regularly visited the royal palace where his sister was a concubine of King Sisowath Monivong. He qualified for a scholarship to study in France and attended the École FRançaise d'Électronique et d'Informatique from 1949 – 1953.

Many young Cambodians were attracted to communism following the Vietnamese Viet Minh’s recognition in 1959 by the Soviet Union and they were strongly opposed to the colonial rule of Cambodia. It was while studying in Paris that Saloth was first wooed by the communist ideal and joined a secret communist cell in 1951.

After flunking his exams three times, Saloth was sent back to Cambodia in 1953. As one of the first of the secret cell to go back to Cambodia he was entrusted with the task of evaluating the various rebel groups active in Cambodia at the time. In 1960 Saloth Sar, Tou Samouth, Ieng Sary and a few followers met in a room in a Phnom Penh train station to form the “Workers Party of Kampuchea”. Samouth was initially chosen as party secretary, but after mysteriously disappearing in 1963 Sar became the party leader. Thereafter he was also known as “Brother Number One”.

How It Started

Over the next decade Sar and his party worked to increase their power and hold throughout Cambodia.  Finally in 1975 the Sar-led Khmer Rouge marched into the capital of Phnom Penh ending years of civil war in Cambodia and marking the beginning of the bloodiest years of Cambodian history and one of the world’s worst holocausts. After seizing power in 1975 Sar was christened Pol Pot by the Chinese; a nickname which is a shortened version of “politique potentielle”.

In 1976 Sar became the Cambodian Prime Minister and Cambodia became Democratic Kampuchea.

Pol Pot the Leader

As the new leader of Cambodia Pol Pot set to work making his totalitarian dream a deadly reality for millions of Cambodians.  He wanted to transform Cambodia into his idea of an agrarian utopia at a blistering pace. He did not have time for anything like China’s “cultural revolution”: Quite simply if you did not meet the Khmer Rouge communist ideal you were disposed of.  If you were not executed for being an intellectual or a capitalist, then you were destined to be starved to death, worked to death or die from an untreated disease.

The Khmer Rouge governed Cambodia until 1979 when the Vietnamese overthrew them and they retreated into the Cambodian jungle. However, during their short time in power the party had decimated the Cambodian population and under the direction of Pol Pot carried out one of the worst incidents of genocide of the 20th century. The Killing Fields around the country terstify to this.

Between 1975 and 1979 approximately 1.5 million Cambodians were killed as a direct result of the Khmer Rouge and their bloody policies. Many of the victims were never identified during this Cambodian genocide.

The End Of It All

At the end of 1979 a Cambodian tribunal sentenced Pol Pot to death in absentia for crimes against his own people. However, he remained in hiding in Cambodia’s western jungles and continued to command the Khmer Rouge, a 30,000 man force that was battling the Vietnamese on the Cambodian border.

In 1985 the Khmer Rouge announced that he had stepped down as leader of the group. In 1997 Sar was finally captured after years of living underground. He died from heart failure on April 15, 1998 while under house arrest. He died before he could be brought to justice for his crimes against humanity and the genocide of the Cambodian people.

Today, Cambodia, the land of smiles, is still recovering from the years of violence and murder meted out under the direction of Cambodia Pol Pot.

So in short...

Pol Pot was the leader of the Cambodian communist movement known as the Khmer Rouge and was responsible for engineering the deaths of an estimated 1.5 million Cambodians. He was never tried for his crimes against humanity. 

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