Remembers Pol Pot as a “gentle man”

by John Einar Sandvand on March 24, 2009

As head of Khmer Rouge, Pol Pot was responsible for the deaths of up to 2 million people. Yet Kong Duong, who worked closely with him in the 1980s, describes Pol Pot’s personality as far from that of a monster.

Kong Duong

Kong Duong

- Pol Pot was a gentle and calm man. He was always careful about showing his opinion and I would describe him as a very simple person, said Kong Duong. He described Pol Pot as a man who would imply things rather that put it directly in the face of others. This resulted in people around him always being very cautious.

I met Kong Duong in Pailin, a city not far from the western border to Thailand. Pailin was one of the latest strongholds of Khmer Rouge. Only as late as 1996 the city came under government control. Even today a number of important positions in the local government are held by former Khmer Rouge leaders.

That includes Kong Duong, who is Pailin’s information director. From 1983 until 1994 he was the radio host of Khmer Rouge. During this period he got to know Pol Pot closely.

Pol Pot

- I believe Pol Pot changed his leadership style after Khmer Rouge was overthrown by the Vietnamese in 1979, said Kong Duong.

He left no doubt that Pol Pot was responsible for the killings during the Khmer Rouge years.

- People were killed all the time. Everyone who disagreed with Pol Pot could be killed, he said.

This coming week the trial against Khmer Rouge’s torture chief Duch will resume in Phnom Penh. For the first time he will explain publicly how 17.000 people were tortured at Tuol Sleng. Later four of Pol Pot’s nearest associates will stand trial: Ieng Sary, Khieu Samphan, Nuon Chea and Ieng Thirith.

I asked Kong Duong  what he thought about the international tribunal.

- I don’t think it will be a success. In my opinion it doesn’t bring any benefit to the people. They will still be poor and have a difficult life. I think we should instead focus on solving the economic problems of our country, he said.

- Why did you join Khmer Rouge yourself?

- It was never my own decision. I could not get away from the regime and had to join.¬† But I don’t want a regime like that again.

I had so many more questions I wanted to ask Kong Duong – both about Pol Pot and Khmer Rouge. Unfortunately his time was very limited and we only had 15 minutes together.

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