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Authors: Philip Short

Pol Pot

Also by Philip Short
The Dragon and The Bear
Mao: A Life



Pol Pot
Anatomy of a Nightmare


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Copyright © 2004 by Philip Short


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Originally published in Great Britain in 2004 by John Murray
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Short, Philip.
Pol Pot : anatomy of a nightmare / Philip Short—1st ed.
    p. cm.
“A John Macrae book.”
ISBN-13: 978-0-8050-8006-3
ISBN-10: 0-8050-8006-6
I. Pol Pot. 2. Genocide—Cambodia. 3. Political atrocities—Cambodia. 4. Cambodia— Politics and government—1975—1979. 5. Prime ministers—Cambodia—Biography. I.Title.
DS554.83.P65S53 2005
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First published in hardcover in 2005 by Henry Holt and Company
First Owl Books Edition 2006
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3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4
For Mao Mao



List of Illustrations
Note on Pronunciation
1.   Sâr
2.   City of Light
3.   Initiation to the Maquis
4.   Cambodian Realities
5.   Germinal
6.   The Sudden Death of Reason
7.   Fires of Purgation
8.   Men in Black
9.   Future Perfect
10.   Model for the World
11.   Stalin’s Microbes
12.   Utopia Disbound
Dramatis Personae
Notes and Sources



History is to a great extent detective work. Contemporary documents, the statements of witnesses, their later recollections, compared and combined with other sources, provide essential clues as to the nature of the ‘crime’ — that is to say, the historical truth — concealed beneath. The biographer strives to draw from this amorphous mass of detail a credible portrait of the hero, or anti-hero, of his tale.
Many people helped me to assemble the mosaic of fragments of truths, half-truths and lies, related by the perpetrators of the Cambodian nightmare as well as by its victims, on which this book is based. Caroline Gluck gave me the first pointers. Bill Herod and Michael Vickery offered early encouragement. David Ashley, Ben Kiernan, Henri Locard, William Shawcrosss, Sacha Sher and Serge Thion shared documents. Christopher Goscha allowed me to translate the Vietnamese-language copies of dozens of original Khmer Rouge texts which he had been authorised to transcribe by hand at the Military Library in Hanoi. Others assisted with Chinese archival materials. Nil Samorn, my Khmer research assistant, spent two years accompanying me across Cambodia, reading and translating, with undented good humour, thousands of pages of opaque Khmer Rouge internal journals, CPK Standing Committee minutes and prison confessions, which form much of the documentation for the later chapters. Stephen Heder and David Chandler generously read the typescript, offering pithy and often pungent comments which gave me much food for thought even if, on certain points, we continue to differ.
Several of the leading protagonists of the Khmer Rouge revolution told me their life stories, often at length over a period of months. They include the former Head of State, Khieu Samphân; Pol Pot’s brother-in-law, the Khmer Rouge Foreign Minister, Ieng Sary; Nikân, whose brother, Son Sen, was Defence Minister; Phi Phuon, the Chief of Security at the Khmer Rouge Foreign Ministry; and two other former officials, Suong Sikoeun and In Sopheap, as well as a host of lower-ranking individuals. Their motives were mixed. Some were more truthful, others less so. But like interviewees everywhere, the more they talked the more of themselves
they revealed. Without their co-operation, this book would not have been possible.
Some historians argue that anything the former Khmer Rouge leaders say should be disbelieved on principle. I take a different view. If the interviewee has no obvious interest in lying, if his story is plausible and if there is no convincing evidence to the contrary, I tend to believe that he is telling if not
truth then at least his version of it. The same applies — although with many more caveats — to confessions obtained under torture at Khmer Rouge interrogation centres. The information they contain cannot be dismissed out of hand simply because the source is nauseous.
Several of the Cambodian students who were with Pol Pot during his years in Paris in the early 1950s, notably Keng Vannsak, afterwards a staunch anti-communist; Thiounn Mumm, who became a Khmer Rouge minister, Ping Sây and the late Mey Mann, also shed light on hitherto unsuspected aspects of his life. Vannsak and Mumm kindly provided previously unpublished photographs from their private collections, as did Bernard Hamel, former Reuters correspondent in Phnom Penh. Youk Chhang and his colleagues at the Documentation Center of Cambodia allowed me access to their holdings of Khmer Rouge documents and pictures. I am grateful to Serge Corrieras, Chris Goscha, Michael Hayes of the
Phnom Penh Post,
Ben Kieman, Roland Neveu and Kathleen O’Keeffe for help in obtaining other illustrations.
My thanks go too, as always, to my editors, Roland Philipps in London and John Macrae in New York; to my agents, Jacqueline Korn and Emma Sweeney; and to Jane Birkett, without whose eagle eye for repetitions, mixed metaphors, lapsed commas and other punctual misdemeanours, this would be a poorer book.
Phnom Penh — La Garde-Freinet,


July 1 2004
List of Illustrations
Section One
1. Saloth Sâr as a young man
2. Ieng Sary and Keng Vannsak in Paris
3. Rath Samoeun, co-founder of the Cercle Marxiste
4. Portrait of Son Ngoc Minh carried by militants
5. Tou Samouth
6. Keo Meas, leader of the Pracheachon group
7. Khieu Ponnary, her sister Thirith and Madame Collineau
8. Sihanouk beneath a palanquin
10.    2500th anniversary of the birth of Buddha
11. Son Sen as Director of Studies at Phnom Penh Teacher Training College
12. Jacqueline Kennedy, Queen Kossamak and Sihanouk
13. Government-sponsored mob sacks the North Vietnamese Embassy
14. Lon Nol, army commander
15. Public execution of captured Khmer Serei
16. Government troops carrying the heads of communist soldiers
17. Saloth Sâr in Ratanakiri
18. CPK’s Third Congress
19. Sihanouk and Monique at Mount Kulen
20. Sihanouk and others at Stung Treng
21. Sihanouk inspects soup kitchen
22. Khmer Rouge women’s battalion
23. Khmer Rouge banknotes
24. Khmer Rouge and Chinese diplomats at jungle’ embassy
25. Chinese government passport issued to Ieng Sary
26. Deng Xiaoping and Sihanouk
27. Nuon Chea holds Pol Pot’s daughter Sitha
28. Pol Pot poses with the children of his aides
29. Pol Pot and his wife Meas
32.   Colleagues of Pol Pot later executed
33. Heng Samfin, installed by Vietnam as Cambodian Head of State
34. Pol Pot in Southern China
35. Khieu Samphân, beaten by a mob sent by Hun Sen’s government
37 Ke Pauk and Mok, the principal military supporters of Pol Pot
38. Pol Pot’s trial
Illustration Credits
, personal archive of Keng Vannsak;
, Vietnamese Revolutionary Museum, Hanoi;
, courtesy of Ben Kiernan;
, personal archive of Bernard Hamel;
, personal archive of Thiounn Mumm;
, AP;
, UPI;
, archives of
Phnom Penh Post;
, Xinhua News Agency;
, author’s collection;
, private collection;
, courtesy of the Documentation Center of Cambodia; 35, Serge Corrieras; 38, Nate Thayer/Tom Keller Associates
Note on Pronunciation



There is no standard system of romanisation for the Khmer language. Thus the village described on maps as Samlaut calls itself Samlot; Kamrieng, on the border with Thailand, is also Kamrean; the port of Kampâng Saom is Kompong Som, and so on. This book employs, wherever possible, either the most commonly used variants or those which approximate best to English pronunciation. None the less, the following basic rules may be helpful:
‘a’ is intermediate between the English short ‘a’and short ‘o’: thus Saloth is pronounced Soloth, and Samphân, Somphân.
‘â’ lies between the English short ‘o’ and ‘or’: Sâr is pronounced
Samphân is
‘au’, as in Pauk, is sounded as in lock; ‘ay’, as in Chhay and Sây, rhymes with sigh.
‘eo’, as in Keo, rhymes with cow; ‘eu’ as in Deuch, with book; ‘ey’, as in Mey, with may; ‘ê’, as in Chhê, with tie.
‘Ch’, ‘P’ and ‘T’ followed by ‘h’ are aspirated. Chham is pronounced Cham (whereas
unaspirated, is like Jam). Phem is
and Thirith,
Terminal -ch is pronounced -ck, making Pach rhyme with Pack.
Cambodian names, like those in China and Vietnam, are in the reverse order to English. Khieu Samphân’s family name is Khieu, his given name, Samphân. However, unlike in China, the polite form of address is Mr Samphân — or simply Samphân — not Mr Khieu. The only exceptions are names which originated as revolutionary aliases. For example, Long Bunruot took the alias Nuon, to which he subsequently added the name Chea. He is therefore Mr Nuon, not Mr Chea. Similarly Pol Pot is addressed as Pol, Vorn Vet as Vorn, and so on. The same distinction applies in Vietnam, where given names are used in formal address because there is such a narrow range of family names that to employ them would be confusing: hence Ho Chi Minh (a revolutionary alias) is President Ho, but Vo Nguyen Giap (a real name) is General Giap.

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