PORTRAIT – The historical leader of the Khmer Rouge was the main perpetrator of the Cambodian genocide which, in 1975 and in over three years, killed at least 1.7 million people in the country.
“Brother number one.” This is what was nicknamed Saloth Sar, aka Pol Pot. The former student of the benches of the French university, descendant of a Sino-Khmer family, was the instigator of one of the most ferocious regimes in the history of communism. Between 1975 and 1979, Cambodia, under the rule of Pol Pot, fell into the horror of mass deportation, slavery and extermination. During these dark years, at least 1.7 million people will die, 20% of the Cambodian population at the time. This Sunday is the twentieth anniversary of the death of the dictator. Passage in France Historians like the British Philip Short agree to portray a seductive student who later became the promoter of one of the deadliest utopias in history. Born on May 19, 1928, in Kampong Thom province, in a rather wealthy peasant family, Saloth Sar was a shy, but also laughing and popular teenager. “He was a Buddhist who did not like fighting,” said his brother Saloth Neap in Figaro, in 1999. “He was the intellectual of the family,” he said. After a brief visit to Phnom Penh, the young man receives a scholarship for France where he follows electrical engineering studies, but does not obtain a diploma. “It’s in France that he changed,” said his brother in the same interview at Figaro . A mediocre and erased student, Saloth Sar develops his relationships and quickly joins communist circles. He meets his future companions of struggle and power, such as Khieu Samphan, Son Sen or Ieng Sary. The former dictator to “the head of the most autocratic state of the twentieth century”
Pol Pot in the Cambodian jungle on June 22, 1979. KYODO NEWS / AP In 1954, the French withdrew from Indochina. King Norodom Sihanouk is appointed head of state and the monarchy is restored in Cambodia. Saloth Sar opposed the new power and joined a small communist party, the “Khmer People’s Revolutionary Party”, which later became the “Communist Party of Kampuchea”, the political body of the Khmer Rouge. In 1962, he was elected secretary of the central committee of the party. With the support of China, the rising star of the Cambodian communist movement forms the first Khmer Rouge fighters. After the failed coup of Marshal Lon Nol, Pol Pot takes power in 1975. He directs, in the shadows, one of the most deadly regimes in history, revealing his identity only belatedly. The population then considers the Khmer Rouge, led by the “brother number one”, as a liberating force. But the Cambodian horizon suddenly darkens. »READ ALSO – April 17, 1975: Phnom Penh falls to the Khmer Rouge 1975 is considered the year zero of the scheme. The Khmer Rouge quickly impose a totalitarian regime. All individuals linked to the previous government are eliminated. The inhabitants of the cities – “place of imperialist contamination” – are forced to go to work in the countryside. The regime will be particularly severe with the urban population and intellectuals. Wishing an immeasurable hatred to the Vietnamese, anyone with any connection to them will be persecuted. This is also the case for individuals who have received an education or demonstrate any religious affiliation. Pol Pot had the teachers, the doctors, and even the nearsighted murdered, whose glasses were a sign of unforgivable Western contamination. The man with “the head of the most autocratic state of the twentieth century” wanted “the integral communism” in a quarter of an hour “, explains the historian Jean-Louis Margolin with Figaro .
“Look at me. Do I look violent? Not at all…”
Pol Pot in the only filmed interview given to American journalist Nate Thayer in 1997.
The instigator of the “death camps”
Skulls and bones of more than 8,000 victims of the Khmer Rouge regime in Choeung Ek. Damir Sagolj / X90027 Technicians, engineers, teachers, students, ministers, military, foreign diplomats, bonzes … will go through the notorious Tuol Sleng prison also called S-21. Between the walls of the former high school, the “alleged opponents” to the regime are tortured to obtain false confessions. Arrest is, in itself, sufficient proof of their guilt. Chained by dozens, prisoners are tortured two to three times a day . A large portion of the prisoners are then sent to the “death camps” on the outskirts of the capital, to be “destroyed”, according to the terminology of the regime. In this place of execution and this mass grave, like in Choeung Ek they are beaten to death or thrown still alive in mass graves. Murdered, tortured, hungry, exhausted from work and forced displacement, 1.7 million people will be victims of this genocide. “I have a clear conscience,” Pol Pot told American journalist Nate Thayer in 1997 in one of only two interviews ever. »READ ALSO – Cambodia: when victims and executioners live side by side
Pol Pot leads the Cambodian guerrillas in the jungle on June 23, 1979. AP / ASSOCIATED PRESS In 1978, Vietnam invaded Cambodia with the aim of overthrowing the Pol Pot regime. The army moves quickly and on January 11, 1979, a new government is formed by former Khmer Rouge opposed to their leader. The dictator and his followers then flee into the jungle where they organize guerrilla warfare against the new pro-Vietnamese regime. But this movement is gradually marginalizing. Sentenced to death in absentia by the authorities for crimes committed during his reign, Pol Pot disappears in the late 1990s. His former comrades found him in July 1997, weakened by malaria and major health problems. He was arrested by his own troops on the orders of his rival, Ta Mok, for the assassination of Son Sen, the former head of the Democratic Kampuchea security. The dictator with paranoid tendencies is sentenced to life imprisonment. He spends his last months under house arrest. Nobody knows if he was still living with his second wife and his only child, a girl named Sar Patchata than Le Figaro had met in 2007. The death of the dictator remains surrounded by many gray areas. He died on April 15, 1998 at the age of 72, officially a heart attack but probably after “suicide” according to the historian Jean-Louis Margolin. His body was cremated soon after, with his belongings, on a bed of tires. The remains of the despot were cremated very quickly, the exact nature of the death remains controversial.