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People Top 5
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- May 04, 1998
- Vol. 49
- No. 17
Lord of Terror
Beneath Pol Pot's Genteel Facade Beat the Heart of a Merciless Murderer
Born Saloth Sar, the eighth of nine children of a middle-class farmer, "he was a quiet, smart boy who never got into fights," recalls his brother Saloth Nhep, 70. As a government scholarship student in Paris in 1949, Pol Pot immersed himself in communism. He returned in 1953 and, seven years later, helped found Cambodia's Communist Party, becoming its leader in 1963. By 1970, the Vietnam War had spilled into Cambodia, posing a threat that helped swell the ranks of Pol Pot's jungle-based Khmer Rouge guerrillas. Five years later, 70,000 of them marched into the capital, Phnom Penh, and began the bloody reign that ended only in 1979, after an invasion by Vietnam. Having spent the past two decades in hiding, Pol Pot ended his days under house arrest by his own soldiers for ordering the death of a comrade. The years had not changed him, according to Far Eastern Economic Review's Nate Thayer, who interviewed the fallen despot in 1997. "He did not feel remorse," says Thayer. "The guy went to his grave without saying, 'I'm sorry.' "
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