Pol Pot Dead
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST: This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST: And I'm Linda Wertheimer.
Pol Pot, the leader of the Cambodian Khmer Rouge movement, is dead. He was 73 years old. His political movement, the Khmer Rouge, was responsible for the deaths of more than a million-and-a-half Cambodians.
Pol Pot's regime controlled Cambodia to 1975 to 1979, and eliminated all those who stood in the way of creating a agrarian Marxist state. But the Khmer Rouge was forced from power after a Vietnamese invasion. The group was essentially broken into factions.
And last year, Pol Pot was tried by his former comrades as a rival took control of what remained of the Khmer Rouge.
In the last year, the United Nations and the United States had revived an effort to formally hold Pol Pot responsible for the genocide that occurred in the killing fields of Cambodia.
Nate Thayer, the Southeast Asia correspondent for the "Far Eastern Economic Review," first interviewed Pol Pot in October 1997.
It was the first interview the leader had given to a western journalist in 18 years.
Earlier today, members of the Khmer Rouge took Thayer to see the body of Pol Pot at a camp near the Ti border. He confirmed that the body being displayed was indeed Pol Pot.
NATE THAYER, SOUTHEAST ASIA CORRESPONDENT, "FAR EASTERN ECONOMIC REVIEW" : There is no question that I saw the body of Pol Pot, it was Pol Pot, and that he is dead. There is not question of that. There is questions raised on, of course, how he died. They say he died from heart failure. In fact, it's logical. I tend to believe it. But really without forensics it's impossible and of course there is speculation that he was the victim of a political murder.
WERTHEIMER: The reason that the news of his death has been received with some skepticism in Southeast Asia and here is that the United States has been interested in trying to arrest Pol Pot and has been working with China to try to do that and felt, I believe, that that was a possibility, that it was coming close, and then he dies.
THAYER: That's right. There was movement and significant movement that the remnants of the Khmer Rouge were now willing to turn Pol Pot over for proceedings in front of an international tribunal for crimes against humanity.
Now, Pol Pot's health has been extremely frail for a long time.
For the last 20 days or so he has been taken through the jungles as they've lost much of their territory. Today, while I was in the Khmer Rouge area, there was very heavy fighting very close by both incoming and outgoing artillery and small arms fire. There were regular mine explosions. The trauma of an elderly, extremely frail, probably very demoralized man under these conditions very easily could have prompted a heart attack, which is what they -- his wife, who I interviewed this afternoon, claims happened last night.
WERTHEIMER: Does the death of Pol Pot change anything for Cambodia? Is he still significant enough a figure that it changes the equation there?
THAYER: You know it's a very good question because, in fact, Pol Pot has been held up as the boogie man lurking in the jungles. But in fact he's been purged from any political role for some time.
And along with Pol Pot's death, unfortunately, goes the chance of finding out really what happened and why. There's so many unanswered questions of why so many people suffered so unspeakably and so unfairly. And this man was in sole control.
But the fact is that there are thousands of people who are guilty of crimes against humanity who continue to wield power in Cambodia' s mainstream politics today: the current prime minister, the defense minister, the interior minister, the finance minister, the justice minister, hundreds of generals in the military and security forces.
And these are people whose government is recognized and supported by the United States, among others.
Much of the United States' so-called quest for Pol Pot is really Washington politics. The fact is that there are mass murderers who are in power who are being issued diplomatic visas and have free run of the country today.
And maybe the death of Pol Pot will refocus really where it should be, in my view, which is that Cambodia is a country that is really on its knees, and whose people continue to suffer under despotic leaders 20 years after Pol Pot was driven from power.
WERTHEIMER: Thanks very much, Nate Thayer.
THAYER: OK, thank you very much.
WERTHEIMER: Nate Thayer is a correspondent for the "Far Eastern Economic Review." This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
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