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Western Press Review: Pol Pot Cheats Life Again

  • Don Hill



Prague, 17 April 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Confirmation yesterday of the death of former Cambodian despot Pol Pot left a world bereaved but almost nobody in mourning. Western press commentary generated such phrases as: "cheating death;" "elusive to the end;" "a phantom synonymous with fear;" "Hitler of Cambodia;" and "criminal of the century." The only regrets expressed were that now he can't be brought to trial for crimes against humanity. The following is a sampling of press opinion:

LONDON TIMES: Pol Pot cheated nation

Editorial in The Times of London: "During his lifetime, Pol Pot cheated more than a million Cambodians of their lives; now, as reports of his death are confirmed, he has cheated the nation he terrorized of the chance to call to account one of the most monstrous instigators of mass killing and systematic torture."

The Times says: "It does seem as though the world is finally rid of the mild-mannered butcher of the killing fields." It says: "His death is politically convenient. The remnants of the Khmer Rouge can surrender or slink away and blame the orders for mass murder on their dead comrade; and the ghastly secrets of exactly what happened when Democratic Kampuchea slaughtered its own people will never now be properly documented."

THE NEW YORK TIMES: No punishment could fit the evil Pol Pot committed

Editorial in The New York Times: "Pol Pot, elusive to the end, died just as the world finally seemed to be serious about bringing him to justice. No punishment, however, could have fit the evil he committed."

The editorial says: "The Communist Khmer Rouge regime was surely the most bizarre in modern history, its philosophy made up of one part Maoism and three parts paranoia. It emptied the cities and marched Cambodians to the countryside to starve on state farms. Having an education, or even wearing glasses, could get one killed as a class enemy."



CHICAGO TRIBUNE: His name was synonymous with fear

Analysis by Uli Schmetzer in the Chicago Tribune: "He was born Saloth Sar but became a phantom as Pol Pot, a name that has become synonymous with fear, Maoist madness and the mass extermination of as many as 2 million Cambodians." The writer says: "Pol Pot remained an enigma to the end, a failed academic and strategist whose policies brought disaster on the Cambodian people, a paranoid who had thousands of his own ultra-Maoist Khmer Rouge fighters executed as traitors, while surviving for 35 years as their overlord, the self-styled Brother Number One. He was secretive and manipulative both as guerrilla leader and as Cambodia's dictator."



FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: Pol Pot escaped punishment

Commentary by Pierre Simonitsch in the Frankfurter Rundschau: "One of the worst criminals of our century has died peacefully aged 73. Pol Pot never seriously had to fear being tried by either a Cambodian or an international criminal court. Along with Pol Pot, the other Khmer Rouge leaders have so far escaped punishment too. Yet their reign of terror took a blood toll of between half a million and one and a half million lives, which must be a record for just four years in power. Pol Pot took with him to his grave whatever prompted him to try to wipe out his entire people, a feat he nearly accomplished. The purpose of establishing the historic truth alone would have justified a trial."

FINANCIAL TIMES: A figure who represents evil

Column by commentator Edward Mortimer in the Financial Times, London: "Probably all cultures need a figure who symbolically represents absolute evil. For late 20th century world culture, Pol Pot has been that figure."



THE WASHINGTON POST: Hitler of Cambodia

Analysis by William Branigan in The Washington Post: "He has been described as the Hitler of Cambodia, a genocidal tyrant whose brief but brutal rule claimed more than a million lives. Yet the man who terrorized his country in the 1970s and haunted Cambodians' memories for years afterward struck those who met him as modest, soft-spoken, almost gentle in his countenance, a reclusive figure who shunned the trappings of power even as he exercised it with devastating consequences. The incongruity was part of the enigma of Pol Pot, who died Wednesday night in the jungles of northern Cambodia -- apparently of natural causes -- while being held under house arrest by former followers who had turned against him. He was 73. Unrepentant to the end, Pol Pot had created a reign of terror in the name of establishing a pure communist society in Cambodia."



DALLAS MORNING NEWS: Pol Pots final injustice

Analysis by Gregg Jones in The Dallas Morning News: "For his victims, it was Pol Pot's final injustice: The Communist dictator responsible for the deaths of more than 1 million Cambodians died peacefully in his sleep, his guilt never confessed, his crimes unpunished. As evidence mounted (yesterday) that the notorious leader of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge movement was actually dead after 19 years on the run, Cambodians expressed regrets that Pol Pot will never be held accountable for his murderous rule. Democracy activists in Cambodia and abroad called for an international court to try other Khmer Rouge leaders for their crimes during the movement's 1975-79 reign of terror."



CHICAGO TRIBUNE: The final escape from prosecution

Analysis by David S. Cloud in the Chicago Tribune: "For two decades, governments and human rights activists have called for putting Pol Pot on trial for his leading role in the genocide inflicted on the Cambodian people from 1975-1979. Now his reported death while in hiding in the Cambodian jungle has made that issue moot. His final escape from prosecution points up the difficulties of imposing international law against the perpetrators of such crimes. But the case of Pol Pot shows that talking about prosecuting suspected war criminals from the safety and comfort of Washington and other capitals is much easier than the reality of apprehending them and overcoming the obstacles to putting them in the dock. Without an accounting of the crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge, many human rights activists say, Cambodia will remain victimized by violence and instability that still plagues the country."



BOSTON GLOBE: End has come for brutal leader

Analysis by Indira A. R. Lakshamanan in The Boston Globe "Twenty-three years to the day (Friday, April 17) since communist guerrillas stormed into Cambodia's capital in rubber sandals and declared the 'Year Zero, embarking on a reign of terror that claimed 2 million lives, the end appears to have finally come for Pol Pot and his notorious movement, the Khmer Rouge. The body of the elusive Pol Pot, believed to be 73 and perhaps the most brutal guerrilla leader of this century, was seen (yesterday) by a few journalists in a spartan hut in northern Cambodia at the Thai border. Pol Pot's death marks the symbolic conclusion of a painful chapter in Cambodian history. Yet without a tribunal to hold him and his collaborators accountable for their gruesome deeds, many Khmer Rouge watchers and victims said they felt robbed of a finale. It remains an open question how quickly a country riven by decades of war can mend its scars, reintegrate former soldiers, and rebuild a standstill economy after the collapse of a long-invincible rebel movement."
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