Monday, 31 March 2008

Dith Pran Was Witness To Holocaust In Cambodia

The Associated Press
Published: March 31, 2008

NEW YORK - Dith Pran, the Cambodian-born journalist whose harrowing tale of enslavement and eventual escape from that country's murderous Khmer Rouge revolutionaries in 1979 became the subject of the award-winning film "The Killing Fields," died Sunday. He was 65.

Dith died at a New Jersey hospital Sunday morning of pancreatic cancer, according to Sydney Schanberg, his former colleague at The New York Times.

Dith was working as an interpreter and assistant for Schanberg in Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital, when the Vietnam War reached its chaotic end in April 1975 and both countries were taken over by communist forces.

Schanberg helped Dith's family get out, but was forced to leave his friend behind after the capital fell; they were not reunited until Dith escaped 4 1/2 years later. Eventually, Dith resettled in the United States and went to work as a photographer for the Times.

It was Dith who coined the term "killing fields" for the horrifying clusters of corpses and skeletal remains of victims he encountered on his desperate journey to freedom.

The regime of Pol Pot and his communist zealots was blamed for the deaths of nearly 2 million of Cambodia's 7 million people.

After Dith moved to the United States, he worked for The New York Times, and became a goodwill ambassador for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and founded the Dith Pran Holocaust Awareness Project, dedicated to educating people on the history of the Khmer Rouge regime.

Dith Pran was born Sept. 27, 1942, at Siem Reap. Educated in French and English, he worked as an interpreter for U.S. officials in Phnom Penh.

After Cambodia's leader, Prince Norodom Sihanouk, broke off relations with the United States in 1965, Dith worked at other jobs. When Cambodian troops went to war with the Khmer Rouge in 1970, Dith returned to Phnom Penh and worked as an interpreter for Times reporters. He and Schanberg met in 1972.

After Vietnamese forces invaded Cambodia in 1979 and seized control of territory, Dith escaped from a commune near Siem Reap and trekked 40 miles, dodging both Vietnamese and Khmer Rouge forces, to reach a border refugee camp in Thailand.

From the Thai camp he sent a message to Schanberg, who rushed from the United States for an emotional reunion with the friend he felt he had abandoned.


•Sydney Schanberg, a New York Times reporter who worked with Dith Pran in Cambodia, described Dith's ordeal and salvation in a 1980 magazine article titled "The Death and Life of Dith Pran."

•Later a book, the magazine article became the basis for "The Killing Fields," the highly successful 1984 British film starring Sam Waterston as the Times correspondent and Haing S. Ngor, another Cambodian escapee from the Khmer Rouge, as Dith Pran.

•The film won three Oscars, including the best supporting actor award to Ngor.

•Schanberg's reporting from Phnom Penh had earned him a Pulitzer Prize in 1976.

Source: The Associated Press

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