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Dith Pran

Dith Pran

Dith Pran (September 27 1942March 30 2008) was a Cambodian photojournalist best known as a refugee and Cambodian Genocide survivor and was the subject of the Academy Award-winning film The Killing Fields. He was portrayed in the movie by first-time actor Haing S. Ngor, who won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance.

Biography

Born in Siem Reap, Cambodia, near the Angkor Wat, his father worked as a public-works official. He learned French at school and taught himself English, so the U.S. Army hired him as a translator. After ties with the United States severed, Dith began working with a British film crew, and then as a hotel receptionist.

In 1975, Pran and New York Times reporter Sydney Schanberg stayed behind in Cambodia to cover the fall of the capital Phnom Penh to the communist Khmer Rouge forces. Schanberg and other foreign reporters were allowed to leave, but Dith was not permitted to leave the country. Due to the suppression of knowledge during the Genocide, Dith hid the fact that he was educated or that he knew Americans and pretended to be a taxi driver. When Cambodians were forced to work in labor camps, Dith had to endure four years of starvation and torture before Vietnam overthrew the Khmer Rouge in December 1978. He coined the phrase "killing fields" to refer to the clusters of corpses and skeletal remains of victims he encountered during his 40-mile escape. His three brothers were killed in Cambodia.

Dith travelled back to Siem Reap, where it was learned that 50 members of his family had died. The Vietnamese had made him village chief, but Dith escaped to Thailand on October 3, 1979 after fearing that they knew of his American ties.

From 1980, Dith worked as a photojournalist with The New York Times in the United States. In 1986, he became an American citizen with his then wife, Ser Moeun Dith; they were later divorced. Dith then married Kim DePaul, but they also divorced. He also campaigned for recognition of the Cambodian Genocide victims, especially as founder and president of The Dith Pran Holocaust Awareness Project. He was a recipient of an Ellis Island Medal of Honor in 1998 and of The International Center in New York's Award of Excellence.

Dith died on March 30 2008 in New Brunswick, New Jersey, having been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer just three months earlier. He was living in Woodbridge, New Jersey. Survivors include his companion, Bette Parslow; his daughter, Hemkarey; his sons, Titony, Titonath and Titonel; a sister, Samproeuth; six grandchildren; and two stepgrandchildren.

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