Sunday, 21 February 2010

Exclusive: Scots miner's son was first Westerner to interview Pol Pot - and was killed hours later
via CAAI News Media

Feb 20 2010 By Annie Brown

IT was Christmas Eve when Richard Caldwell heard his father had been shot dead in Cambodia.

Only hours after he became the first Briton to meet the notorious dictator Pol Pot, Malcolm Caldwell lay dead in a hotel room in the capital Phnom Penh.

Richard was 21 and at a party at his girlfriends house in 1978 when the call came through that his Scottish lecturer dad had been murdered.

He said: I dont even remember who called. It must have been my mum. I just remember being told he was dead. It was devastating. It was chilling news. Horrible.

We hadnt been expecting him to meet with any trouble at all.

To this day, we dont know why he was killed and I am not sure we ever will.

Pol Pots notorious Maoist ruling party the Khmer Rouge ran Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. During their evil rule, up to 2.5million people perished.

Under Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge tried to take Cambodia back to the Middle Ages, forcing millions of people from the cities to work on farms in the countryside.

But it failed miserably and whole families were enslaved, starved and murdered.

Richard has opened his heart after a former leader of the Khmer Rouge went on trial in Phnom Penh more than 30 years after the brutal regime fell.

Duch, real name Kaing Guek Eav, was head of Tuol Sleng prison camp and is accused of presiding over the murder and torture of at least 15,000 inmates.

Malcolm was 47 when he went to Cambodia as a communist who agreed with the regimes policy of forcing the rich and powerful back to the land.

At that time, the Khmer Rouge had successfully hidden the slaughter from the world and many considered them freedom fighters who stopped Cambodia falling into the clutches of bullyboy America.

Before the Khmer Rouge, during the Vietnam War, America had pounded Cambodia with bombs and set it up with a corrupt puppet government.

Richard said: My father believed in going back to the land and people being self-sufficient. We all know now, looking back, that he was supporting a terrible regime. But he didnt know it at the time.

He knew the ruling elite, the rich and intellectuals, were being forced out of the towns and on to the land.

But he obviously didnt know that they were being killed.

I am sure he would have been horrified if he had known. That may have been what happened. He found out and they killed him because of it.

Malcolms colleagues describe him as a gentle, tolerant, courteous and fundamentally decent man who was a dedicated teacher and writer.

He was scruffy, exceptionally bright and focused on politics. Richard remembers a dad he adored, who was loving but distant.

The son of a miner who had retrained as architect, Malcolm was brought up in Kirkcudbright, Dumfriesshire. He and his brother and sister were all duxes at Kirkcudbright Academy and Malcolm was said to have read every book in the library before he went to Edinburgh University.

As a child, he bred rabbits and chickens and always had a passion for the land.

He met and married his first wife, Ann, while completing a PhD at Nottingham University, where she was also studying.

They had four children but his political progression didnt extend to being a hands-on dad or doing household chores.

In 1959, he joined the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London as a research fellow and became chairman of CND.

At home, he would retreat to his study when he wasnt lecturing and every day he went to the pub for a Guinness at lunchtime and a pint in the evening.

In 1973, he left Ann and the children after years of marriage. He remarried in 1976. Malcolm travelled every chance he got, to China, to North Korea and Vietnam, the countries he felt were putting his political beliefs into practice.

He adored his mother, Violet, and sent her mementoes from wherever he went. Malcolm went to Cambodia with American journalists Elizabeth Becker and Richard Dudman. They were among the first Westerners to get in after the Khmer Rouge closed the borders.

Richard said: Cambodia has a sinister ring to us now but at that time, the Khmer Rouge were known as freedom fighters. Not a lot of information was coming out and access was very restricted.

It wasnt considered scary to go there. It wasnt considered threatening to Westerners, I suppose because no Westerners went there. I certainly wasnt worried about his safety.

I suppose looking back, he was politically naive. But he felt he knew the country through his many contacts there.

It is one of reasons I have been reluctant to hold any strident political views, because he was so adamant and yet he turned out to be so wrong.

It was three days before Christmas 1978 and on the last day of his trip, Malcolm was granted an audience with Pol Pot.

The dictator had rarely been seen beyond his most trusted circle but, as an invasion by neighbour Vietnam seemed imminent, he wanted to show he had allies in the West.

So Malcolm became the first Briton to meet him. The only other person present was a translator, who would later say the encounter had been animated and friendly.

That night back at the hotel, Becker, who had grown disillusioned with the Khmer Rouge, debated with Malcolm.

Becker said: Caldwell tried once more to get me to change my mind. He compared Cambodia to Scotland. He was a Scottish nationalist and said Cambodia feared Vietnam the way Scotland feared the English. I saw no relevance to such a remark, and he retired to his room with the prophecy that Scotland would be independent by the middle of the Eighties.

But regardless of their political differences, she liked him. He was a real sweetie, she said. He was also homesick for his family and said he would never spend another Christmas away from them.

Becker went to bed at 11pm and was woken by the sound of gunfire. She opened her bedroom door to be confronted by a young man brandishing a gun.

She panicked and fled to the bathroom. Dudman had also woken up and knocked on Malcolms door. As they discussed the commotion, another armed man appeared and fired shots into the floor.

Dudman ran into his room and hid. Two hours later, an aide told Decker and Dudman that Caldwell was dead in his room and he wanted them to witness that his body was there.

Decker said: There was Malcolm, lying on the floor in his pyjamas, blood on his chest, hislong auburn hair wild around his face. His eyes were closed. At the threshold of his room was another body, a young man clothed in black who looked like the boy who had pointed his pistol at me.

What was he doing there, dead, sprawled across the floor?

She was never given an answer.

A few years ago, documents obtained with a freedom of information request, by Malcolms brother David, suggested he had been murdered by Pol Pots regime, perhaps because the Scottish academic had, at the last minute, seen it for what it was.

Or perhaps an enemy of Pol Pot did it to embarrass the regime.

The next month, the Vietnamese invaded and the regime was no more. Whatever the reason, Malcolms death was pointless. Becker believes there may have been no real motive and it was as senseless as the rest of the slaughter in Cambodia.

She said: Malcolms murder was no less rational than the tens of thousands of murders. His death was caused by the madness of the regime he openly admired.

Two guards assigned to Malcolm and the journalists were arrested and tortured at the Tuol Sleng, so its not possible to give credence to their confession that the execution was designed to undermine the Khmer Rouge.

They claimed the journalists had been allowed to live so they would write about it.

Richard believes the mystery will never be solved. He said: I can relate to the idea that it was Pol Pot because that would suggest Dad knew what was going on and they had to get rid of him. But who knows?

I did think of going to Cambodia to see the place for myself but I dont think I will now. I dont think it would serve a purpose.

I dont think we will ever know who killed my father.

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