IS POL POT REALLY DEAD?; Mystery of Killing Fields tyrant who massacred 2m.
Claims that evil tyrant Pol Pot had died were thrown into doubt last night.
The Khmer Rouge insisted the body they put on show was his.
But observers questioned its resemblance to the 73-year-old dictator, who was filmed nine months ago.
They also pointed out the stark difference in hair colour -with Pot's hair apparently DARKENING as he got older.
During his 18 years hidden in the jungle, the cunning monster was also reported dead several times - only to reappear.
Blood-soaked Pot, responsible for the deaths of two million of his own people in Cambodia's infamous Killing Fields, was due to be put on trial by the West for genocide.
The Cambodian Embassy in Paris expressed doubts over his death - and said it could have been faked to cheat justice.
An official embassy statement read: "We warn public opinion against this news which is not confirmed by trustworthy sources."
The embassy added that "it could not be ruled out once again that the death has been orchestrated to end the hunt to bring him to trial".
America's State Department could offer no conclusive evidence either.
Spokesman James Rubin said Washington had no independent confirmation.
Cambodia's present leaders also found it hard to accept that he was finally dead.
Officials insisted his body should be viewed by more independent witnesses -as well as being checked for poison.
However, others are convinced Pot is dead. Only one independent witness was allowed to see the body yesterday, American journalist Nate Thayer.
He said: "There is no question that this is Pol Pot and that he is dead."
Thayer, who works for the Far Eastern Economic Review, took photographs in the hut where the body lay.
He is one of the few Westerners who has met Pot before.
Thayer attended Pot's show trial last year, staged by the dictator's former comrades.
Meanwhile, the Cambodian Mission in New York put forward a theory for the difference in hair colour.
An official said: "We believe he dyed it to avoid recognition."
Pot is said to have died from a heart attack.
But another theory is that he was murdered because he knew too many secrets, which would have come out at the genocide trial.
China and Thailand feared what he might say about their secret support for his evil regime.
Youk Chhang, who is gathering evidence against top Khmer Rouge leaders, said: "I think we could almost have arrested him tomorrow, it was very close."
He said countries like Thailand and China must be "relieved."
Pot's own men, still at bay in the jungles of northern Cambodia, also knew they would remain outcasts if the horrors they oversaw in the 70s were raked over at a trial.
Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger voiced the suspicions of many yesterday in blaming the Khmer Rouge for the death. He said: "I don't exclude they did it to avoid having to hand him over for trial. If they refused, they would have been outlawed even more."
The exact truth may never be known -but Cambodians are angry that Pot has never answered for his crimes.
It would be a grim irony if the man whose savagery rivalled that of Stalin and Hitler died peacefully in his own bed, as the Khmer Rouge claim.
Chey Sopheara, director of Phnom Penh's genocide museum, said: "If he is really dead, he will be judged in hell.
"I regret it is now too late to bring him to justice. The West should not have delayed arresting him from 1979 to now.
"How can we find justice now for those millions of people who died during his rule?"
Kim Saren lost her parents, five brothers and four sisters to Pot's regime.
She said: "He deserved to die. I am only sorry that he died so easily without being tried."
The body was put on display for a small group of Western journalists who reached the remote spot near the Thai border.
It was lying on a bed wearing trousers and a shirt, and partly covered by a green sheet.
A few flowers lay around its head and the hut reeked of preserving fluid.
The body was guarded by teenage guerrillas armed with AK-47s.
Pot had been under house arrest since he was denounced by his own supporters last year and toppled from power.
His jailer, General Noun Nou, said the body was due to be cremated according to Khmer tradition. That would also destroy any evidence.
Nou said: "His wife came to us at midnight. She learned that her husband was dead when she was tying his mosquito net for him."
He denied Pot was murdered, adding: "If they are afraid the body was tampered with, ask his wife. She was there. No one has done anything like that.
"His death is good for the Khmer Rouge. I hope his bad name will vanish with his death."
Pot's reign of terror was portrayed in the 1984 Oscar-winning film The Killing Fields.
American journalist Sidney Schanberg wrote the book which was turned into the movie, based on his horrific experiences. He was played by actor Sam Waterston.
Schanberg yesterday said the only sad thing about the reports of Pot's death was that he didn't face trial.
The journalist added: "He didn't think of himself as a killer. But he knew what he was doing. He had to know the bodies were piling up."
Cambodia and its people have never recovered from the atrocities he committed. The skulls of his victims, on public display in huge heaps, still cry for vengeance, say Cambodians.
After seizing power in 1975, Pot sealed Cambodia off from the rest of the world.
He was described by the king he ousted as "one of the most powerful monsters ever created by humanity".
The communist hardliner turned his country into a vast slave labour camp.
Pot's aim was to "start again" and return Cambodia to what he called Year Zero, with no Western influences.
The population of Phnom Penh - those who survived the death squads - were ordered into the countryside to work in the fields. They included the old, the sick, even toddlers. No one was spared.
Anyone who resisted was "re- educated". Even those who wore glasses were massacred.
Survivors recall being told by the Khmer Rouge troops: "Keeping you is no loss. Losing you is no loss."
Pot's torturers killed at least 18,000 people in Toul Sleng, the notorious jail in Phnom Penh where the gutters ran red with blood.
Amnesty International are now calling for Pot's fellow leaders to be caught and punished. A spokesman said: "Pol Pot was not the only architect of Cambodia's Killing Fields.
"He may have died but many other senior Khmer Rouge cadres remain free. They should not be allowed to also escape punishment."
Despite the horrors, Pot never apologised for his crimes.
When his mad reign was forcibly ended by the North Vietnamese in 1979, he simply slipped away into the jungles with his men and remained hidden.
Last year, in the only interview he ever gave while on the run, Pot said: "I would like to say my conscience is clear.
"Everything I have done and contributed is first for the nation and the people and race of Cambodia."
THEIR HANDS WERE STAINED WITH BLOOD
POL POT was one of long line of despots who stained the pages of history with the blood of their victims.
GENGHIS KHAN struck terror eight centuries ago and his name is still a byword for savagery. The Mongol warlord massacred the populations of city after city.
Historians now believe JOSEPH STALIN was responsible for the deaths of around 20million people in the Soviet Union. Many died in camps or in mass purges.
ADOLF HITLER was the twisted architect of the Final Solution. Six million Jews were put to death, many from countries conquered by Hitler's ruthless war machine. He also ordered the execution of many of his opponents within Germany in the 30s and 40s.
IDI AMIN'S reign of terror in Uganda, from a coup in 1971 until he fled in 1979, saw the deaths of up to 500,000 people. He is said to have taken pleasure in throwing personal foes to the crocodiles.
Iraq's SADDAM HUSSEIN, like many despots before him, claims to have the support of his people.
But he stands accused of the deaths of thousands of Kurds and Iranians in chemical warfare attacks.