Today April 15th marks the anniversary of the death of Pol Pot, one of the most notorious leaders of the 20th century, and architect of one of the biggest genocides in history.
Born in 1925 as Saloth Sar, he enjoyed a privileged upbringing, which included relations with the rural family of Cambodia, attending the best schools in the country, as well as studying in France.
It was in France where Pol Pot was introduced to his revolutionary path by joining the strong Communist Party of France.
After failing to gain a degree in Paris, he returned to Cambodia, which was quickly becoming embroiled in the Vietnam war. Initially, he was a teacher and clandestine member of the Communist Party of Kampuchea, before eventually becoming its leader in what was to become the Cambodian Civil War.
Events were to turn in Pol Pot, and his movement, now known as the Khmer Rouge (Cambodian Reds), when Lon Nol overthrew the popular King Sihanouk, who was persuaded to team up with Pol Pot.
The next four years saw the entire urban population of Cambodian sent to the countryside, and one of the most perverse experiments in socialism the world has ever seen. The net result of what was to become as the Killing Fields was almost 2 million out of a population of 7.7 million people perishing, or around 1/3 of the population.
Sadly Pol Pot’s reign of terror did not end with the toppling of the Khmer Rouge regime, and not only Angkar (the organization) retain the UN seat for Cambodia until 1989, but was to remain leader of the rebel Khmer Rouge until 1996, when he was deposed and put under house arrest.
His eventual death occurred on April 15th, 1998, in the last remnants of Khmer Rouge territory. Allegedly his death was recorded as a heart attack, although many believe it was suicide.
Ironically he had a Buddhist ceremony at his funeral, Buddhist monks and adherers being some of the most persecuted during his Democratic Kampuchea era.
And as if his legacy were not enough, even his death had the cruel joke of occurring during Khmer New Year, the biggest celebration in the country.
Khmer New Year might have been cancelled in 2020, but you cannot cancel the scars the death of one of the most notorious people of the 20th century brings.
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