By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
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By Jill Stewart
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The former Khmer Rouge leader was tracked down to a small hut near Anlong Veng, only a few hundred meters from the Thai border, by a Cambodian journalist who has asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution from the Cambodian government. Portions of the interview have appeared in the Phnom Pehn Post, a respected daily newspaper, as has a photograph of Pot taken during the interview.
From this last jungle hideout, where Pot and the remaining Khmer Rouge leaders had taken refuge from a recent government military offensive, Pot offered few answers to the questions that have haunted Cambodia since his regime unleashed a four-year reign of terror against its own people.
Just as his death has forestalled any hope that Cambodians and the world at large will ever know why - and with whose help - Pot engineered the deaths of fully one-quarter of his people, his last interview provides only glimpses of what motivated him.
Pot, instead, kvetched about his failing health and the restrictions imposed on him since his "conviction" last summer in a mock trial staged by his former comrades. And he talked with vehemence about the Vietnamese, whom he referred to by the epithet "Yuon," who invaded Cambodia in 1979 and drove Pot from power.
Pot made it clear that he is at peace with his conscience and with his role in Cambodia's history.
Pot was unrecalcitrant about the past, refusing to take responsibility for the estimated 1.7 million Cambodians who died from murder, starvation and forced work from 1975 to 1979.
"Regarding the past, I am not responsible for any of the practical actions," Pot said. "I was responsible for training the cadre only. I did not have any practical work to do. There was a committee which included people responsible for military and economic issues. I was only in charge of politics."
To the end, Pot defended his regime and its murderous ways by appealing to the same nationalistic, anti-Vietnamese rhetoric he expounded as leader of the Khmer Rouge, demonizing the Vietnamese.
"Whatever struggle I have contributed to, I didn't do it for my personal interests. I only [wanted] to prevent our small country from becoming another Kampuchea Krom [now South Vietnam].
"I know the Yuon very well," Pot said, referring to his days as a student in Paris and as a young revolutionary in the jungle when he worked under the tutelage of Vietnamese communists. "Not just the ordinary Yuon people - the ordinary Yuon people are the Vietnamese people, most of whom are good - but the . . . Yuon leadership. They are all cruel. I should know, I worked very closely with them."
In the early 1970s Pot began purging suspected Vietnamese from his cadre's ranks, and when his regime came to power in 1975, he executed hundreds of thousands of Cambodians for collaboration with the enemy.
"We just wanted to live in peace," Pot said of the 1979 conflict with Vietnam that drove him from power in the country. "How could such a small Cambodia, with fewer people and weapons, fight them? . . .
"My head tells me not to talk about this," Pot said. "If I talk, I will cry. Don't let Yuon take Cambodia. Khmers, real Khmers, I tell you that when I die I will not be sorry as long as the Yuon have not taken Cambodia."
Ironically for a man whose ruthless version of nationalism so benighted his homeland, Pot held international intervention as the best hope for Cambodia's future. "The Khmer people don't like Hun Sen and the People's Party," Pot said of the current Cambodian prime minister, a onetime ally of Vietnam who seized power last July. Sen led the Vietnamese-backed communist movement that overthrew Pol Pot in 1979, which eventually became the People's Party.
"They just say [people] love them. They say this because they are powerful. But if there was a democratic election, like in America, France and Australia, they wouldn't win more than 10 percent."
"Organize a free, fair and democratic election," Pot exhorted. "For this, we need ASEAN [the Asian treaty organization], we need the United Nations; we need friends. Only these two [groups] can help each other, both Khmers and foreigners must join together to solve the problem. This is just my idea. I am no fortuneteller."
0ld and frail, visibly failing at the time of the interview, Pot seemed equally concerned with his health as with the fate of Cambodia. He described waking up in the night with chest pains and talked of "severe diseases" that had afflicted his heart since 1995, a result of overwork, although he said he continued to procure food from his garden. And he complained of losing access to a doctor as his health worsened.
"Actually, my heart only has one ventricle, since I was born. Naturally, it ought to have two. So this one valve cannot supply enough blood," he said. "I worked day and night and I began to have headaches, sore eyes, and pains in my chest. I did not know what was happening until one night when I got up and could not see anything. I thought I had sleep in my eyes, so I washed my face, but still I could not see."