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'Pol Pot Should Be Put to Death'

June 28, 1997

Pol Pot, the man who headed the dreaded Khmer Rouge, is reportedly being held captive in Cambodia by his own guerrillas who are deciding whether to turn the once-feared former dictator over to an international tribunal. During a reign of terror from 1975 to 1979, Pol Pot's forces killed more than 1 million Cambodians and left no life untouched by tragedy.

Many Cambodians migrated to the United States in the 1980s, fleeing the nightmare they survived. But the memory of Pol Pot weighs heavily on their minds. They shared their feelings and thoughts about the former ruler with DEBORAH BELGUM.


35, executive director of the United Cambodian Community in Long Beach. He arrived in the United States in 1981. His parents and three older brothers died during the Khmer Rouge years.

My teenage years were stolen. I spent them in a torture camp, working all day and hungry with virtually nothing to eat. You ate whatever moved: lizards, crickets, grasshoppers, rats, snakes, bark, roots, leaves.

Your brain is nonfunctioning. Your stomach drives what you do. We were skin and bones, like people from a Nazi concentration camp. Our knees were as big as our heads. At one time, I was taken to be killed after stealing a handful of rice. But they let me go.

What Pol Pot meant to me is that millions of people have lost their youth, their families and their opportunities. Pol Pot may be the saddest era in Cambodian history. My main concern is what is going on in Cambodia today, the political difference between the two major parties. There is still so much political instability.


35, an educator for the Cambodian community in Long Beach. He came to the United States in 1981. He lost his father and oldest brother when they were sent away to be "reeducated." Another brother died while trying to escape to Vietnam. He and his mother and two older sisters returned to Phnom Penh days after the Vietnamese liberated them from camps in the countryside.

We were one of the first families to return to Phnom Penh. It was a dead town by this time. It was scary. There were bushes everywhere. You could not tell what had been a city street. It was a jungle with a lot of broken buildings.

I think Pol Pot meant the breakdown of the family and loss of those who love you and those whom you love. I lost a father, two brothers and the home I grew up in.

The school I went to is now the Museum of the Holocaust. My own classroom was turned into a prison cell. That is on a personal level.

On a larger level, it is the loss of a civilization. I don't know how to describe it. A lot has been robbed from us. I don't think I will ever understand it.


27, lost his entire family during the Khmer Rouge regime. Orphaned, he spent several years in refugee camps in Thailand before coming to the United States in 1986. He is a youth counselor in Long Beach.

Pol Pot is an international criminal. He must be held responsible for the death and the starvation and the loss of a culture, loss of the family, loss of tradition.

On a personal level, I would say I have lost lots of great opportunities. I lost my education, my childhood, my family and loved ones. I lost everything, like being completely empty.

I wrote 300 letters to the Red Cross trying to find my sister [who was separated into a youth group during the Khmer Rouge years]. I hope she is alive, but I feel very pessimistic. She was young and sick a lot. I don't think she is alive.

My reaction when I heard Pol Pot was captured was that he should be put on trial internationally. I don't want him to spend his life in prison. I want to see him indicted, prosecuted and killed so that people can feel at ease that the main killer is dead. I don't want to see him die of natural causes.


28, a Long Beach bookkeeper who came to the United States in 1981 with her mother. Her father returned to Cambodia in 1982 and now heads the government ministry of religion.

Pol Pot means families were separated from their loved ones. When I hear his name, I have flashbacks to the Khmer Rouge regime. I am wondering if he could still be in control again, if history could repeat itself. War is painful.

I'm afraid for the people, the suffering they went through, and the loss of my loved ones who are still alive in Cambodia.

I love my country, you know. If the country were stable, and right now it is not, I wouldn't mind going back.

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