See biographies by D. Chandler (1992, rev. ed. 1999) and P. Short (2005); study by B. Kiernan (2d ed. 2002).
Saloth Sar (May 19, 1925 – April 15, 1998), also known as Pol Pot, was leader of the communist movement known as the "Khmer Rouge" (which means "Red Khmer", from Rouge, the French for red, and Khmer being the name of a tribe of ancient Cambodia). He was the Prime Minister of Cambodia (officially renamed Democratic Kampuchea under his rule) from 1976 to 1979, having been de facto leader since mid-1975. During his time in power Pol Pot imposed a version of agrarian collectivization whereby city dwellers were relocated to the countryside to work in collective farms and forced labor projects with the goal of restarting civilization in "Year Zero". The combined effect of slave labour, malnutrition, poor medical care and executions had an estimated death toll of to 1.7 million (approximately 26% of the population at that time).
In 1979, he fled into the jungles of southwest Cambodia after an invasion by neighboring Vietnam, which led to the collapse of the Khmer Rouge government. In 1997, Pol Pot was overthrown and imprisoned by other Khmer Rouge leaders. He died while under house arrest by Khmer Rouge and it has been claimed that he was poisoned.
Saloth Sar was born in Prek Sbauv in Kampong Thom Province in 1925 to a moderately wealthy family of Chinese-Khmer descent. In 1935, he left Prek Sbauv to attend the École Miche, a Catholic school in Phnom Penh. As his sister Roeung was a concubine of the king, he often visited the royal palace. In 1947, he gained admission to the exclusive Lycée Sisowath but was unsuccessful in his studies. His future first wife, Khieu Ponnary, her sister, (née Khieu Thirith) Ieng Thirith and Khieu's future husband, Ieng Sary also attended the Lycée.
After switching to a technical school at Russey Keo, north of Phnom Penh, he qualified for a scholarship that allowed for technical study in France. He studied radioelectricity at the EFR in Paris from 1949 to 1953. He also participated in an international labour brigade building roads in Yugoslavia in 1950. After the Soviet Union recognized the Viet Minh as the government of Vietnam in 1950, French Communists (PCF) took up the cause of Vietnam's independence. The PCF's anti-colonialism attracted many young Cambodians, including Saloth. In 1951, he joined a communist cell in a secret organization known as the Cercle Marxiste which had taken control of the Khmer Student's Association (AER) that same year. Within a few months, Saloth also joined the PCF. Historian Philip Short has said that Saloth's poor academic record was a considerable advantage within the anti-intellectual PCF, who saw uneducated peasants as the true proletariat and helped him to quickly establish a leadership role for himself among the Cercle Marxiste.
As a result of failing his exams in three successive years, he was forced to return to Cambodia in January 1954. He was the first member of the Cercle to return to Cambodia and was given the task of evaluating the various groups rebelling against the government. He recommended the Khmer Viet Minh, and in August 1954, Saloth, along with Rath Samoeun, travelled to the Viet Minh Eastern Zone headquarters in the village of Krabao at the Kompong Cham/Prey Veng border area of Cambodia.
Saloth and the others found that the Khmer People's Revolutionary Party (KPRP) was little more than a Vietnamese front organization. In 1954, the Cambodians at the Eastern Zone Headquarters split into two groups. Due to the Geneva peace accord of 1954 expelling all Viet Minh forces and insurgent, one group followed the Vietnamese back to Vietnam as cadres to be used by Vietnam in a future war to liberate Cambodia. The other group, including Saloth, returned to Cambodia.
After Cambodian independence following the 1954 Geneva Conference, right and left wing parties struggled against each other for power in the new government. King Norodom Sihanouk played the parties against each other while using the police and army to suppress extreme political groups. Corrupt elections in 1955 led many leftists in Cambodia to abandon hope of taking power by legal means. The communist movement, while ideologically committed to armed struggle in these circumstances, did not launch a rebellion because of the weakness of the party.
After his return to Phnom Penh, Saloth became the liaison between the above-ground parties of the left (Democrats and Pracheachon) and the underground communist movement. He married Ponnary on July 14, 1956. She returned to Lycee Sisowath but now as a teacher, while he taught French literature and history at Chamraon Vichea, a new private college.
In early 1964, Saloth convinced the Vietnamese to help the Cambodian Communists set up their own base camp. The central committee of the party met later that year and issued a declaration calling for armed struggle. The declaration also emphasized the idea of "self-reliance" in the sense of extreme Cambodian nationalism. In the border camps, the ideology of the Khmer Rouge was gradually developed. The party, breaking with Marxism, declared rural peasant farmers to be the true working class proletarian and the lifeblood of the revolution. This is in some sense explained by the fact that none of the central committee were in any sense "working class". All of them had grown up in a feudal peasant society. The party adapted elements of Theravada Buddhism to justify their non-standard communism.
After another wave of repression by Sihanouk in 1965, the Khmer Rouge movement under Saloth rapidly grew. Many teachers and students left the cities for the countryside to join the movement.
In April 1965, Saloth went to North Vietnam to gain approval for an uprising in Cambodia against the government. North Vietnam refused to support any uprising because of agreements being negotiated with the Cambodian government. Sihanouk promised to allow the Vietnamese to use Cambodian territory and Cambodian ports in their war against South Vietnam.
After returning to Cambodia in 1966, Saloth organized a party meeting where a number of important decisions were made. The party was officially but secretly renamed the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK). Lower ranks of the party were not informed of the decision. It was also decided to establish command zones and prepare each region for an uprising against the government.
In early 1966 fighting broke out in the countryside between peasants and the government over the price paid for rice. Saloth's Khmer Rouge was caught by surprise by the uprisings and was unable to take any real advantage of them. But the government's refusal to find a peaceful solution to the problem created rural unrest that played into the hands of the Communist movement.
It wasn't until early 1967 that Saloth decided to launch a national uprising, even after North Vietnam refused to assist it in any real way. The uprising was launched on January 18, 1968 with a raid on an army base south of Battambang. The Battambang area had already seen two years of great peasant unrest. The attack was driven off by the army, but the Khmer Rouge had captured a number of weapons, which were then used to drive police forces out of Cambodian villages.
By the summer of 1968, Saloth began the transition from a party leader working with a collective leadership into the absolutist leader of the Khmer Rouge movement. Where before he had shared communal quarters with other leaders, he now had his own compound with a personal staff and a troop of guards. Outsiders were no longer allowed to approach him. Rather, people were summoned into his presence by his staff.
The movement was estimated to consist of no more than 1500 regulars, but the core of the movement was supported by a number of villagers many times that size. While weapons were in short supply, the insurgency was still able to operate in twelve of nineteen districts of Cambodia. In the middle of the year Saloth called a party conference and decided on a change in propaganda strategy. Up to 1969, the Khmer Rouge had been very anti-Sihanouk. Opposition to Sihanouk was at the center of their propaganda. But it was decided at the conference to shift the party's propaganda to be against the right-wing parties of Cambodia and their supposed pro-American attitudes. The party ceased to be anti-Sihanouk in public statements, but in private the party had not changed its view of him.
The road to power for Saloth and the Khmer Rouge was opened by the events of January 1970 in Cambodia. Sihanouk, while out of the country, ordered the government to stage anti-Vietnamese protests in the capital. The protesters quickly went out of control and wrecked the embassies of both North and South Vietnam. Sihanouk, who had ordered the protests, then denounced them from Paris and blamed unnamed individuals in Cambodia for them. These actions, along with intrigues by Sihanouk's followers in Cambodia, convinced the government that he should be removed as head of state. The National Assembly voted to remove Sihanouk from office. Afterward, the government closed Cambodia's ports to Vietnamese weapons traffic and demanded that the Vietnamese leave Cambodia.
The North Vietnamese reacted to the political changes in Cambodia by sending Premier Phạm Văn Đồng to meet Sihanouk in China and recruit him into an alliance with the Khmer Rouge. Saloth was also contacted by the Vietnamese who now offered him whatever resources he wanted for his insurgency against the Cambodian government. Saloth and Sihanouk were actually in Beijing at the same time but the Vietnamese and Chinese leaders never informed Sihanouk of the presence of Saloth or allowed the two men to meet. Shortly after, Sihanouk issued an appeal by radio to the people of Cambodia to rise up against the government and support the Khmer Rouge. In May 1970, Saloth finally returned to Cambodia and the pace of the insurgency greatly increased.
Earlier, on March 29, 1970, the Vietnamese had taken matters into their own hands and launched an offensive against the Cambodian army. A force of 40,000 Vietnamese quickly overran large parts of eastern Cambodia reaching to within of Phnom Penh before being pushed back. In these battles the Khmer Rouge and Saloth played a very small role.
In October 1970, Saloth issued a resolution in the name of the Central Committee. The resolution stated the principle of independence mastery which was a call for Cambodia to decide its own future independent of the influence of any other country. The resolution also included statements describing the betrayal of the Cambodian Communist movement in the 1950s by the Viet Minh. This was the first statement of the anti-Vietnamese/self sufficiency at all costs ideology that would be a part of the Pol Pot regime when it took power years later.
Through 1971, the Vietnamese (North Vietnamese and Viet Cong) did most of the fighting against the Cambodian government while Saloth and the Khmer Rouge functioned almost as auxiliaries to their forces. Saloth took advantage of the situation to gather in new recruits and to train them to a higher standard than previously was possible. Saloth also put resources of Khmer Rouge organizations into political education and indoctrination. While accepting anyone regardless of background into the Khmer Rouge army at this time, Saloth greatly increased the requirements for membership in the party. Students and so-called middle peasants were now rejected by the party. Those with clear peasant backgrounds were the preferred recruits for party membership. These restrictions were ironic in that most of the senior party leadership including Saloth came from student and middle peasant backgrounds. They also created an intellectual split between the educated old guard party members and the uneducated peasant new party members.
In early 1972, Saloth toured the insurgent/Vietnamese controlled areas and Cambodia. He saw a regular Khmer Rouge army of 35,000 men taking shape supported by around 100,000 irregulars. China was supplying five million dollars a year in weapons and Saloth had organized an independent revenue source for the party in the form of rubber plantations in eastern Cambodia using forced labor.
After a central committee meeting in May 1972, the party under the direction of Saloth began to enforce new levels of discipline and conformity in areas under their control. Minorities such as the Chams were forced to conform to Cambodian styles of dress and appearance. These policies, such as forbidding the Chams from wearing jewelry, were soon extended to the whole population. A haphazard version of land reform was undertaken by Saloth. Its basis was that all land holdings should be of uniform size. The party also confiscated all private means of transportation at this time. The 1972 policies were aimed at reducing the peoples of the liberated areas to a sort of feudal peasant equality. These policies were generally favorable at the time to poor peasants and extremely unfavorable to refugees from towns who had fled to the countryside.
In 1972, the Vietnamese army forces began to withdraw from the fighting against the Cambodian government. Saloth issued a new set of decrees in May 1973 which started the process of reorganizing peasant villages into cooperatives where property was jointly owned and individual possessions banned.
The Khmer Rouge advanced during 1973. After they reached the edges of Phnom Penh, Saloth issued orders during the peak of the rainy season that the city be taken. The orders led to futile attacks and wasted lives among the Khmer Rouge army. By the middle of 1973, the Khmer Rouge under Saloth controlled almost two-thirds of the country and half the population. Vietnam realized that it no longer controlled the situation and began to treat Saloth as more of an equal leader than a junior partner.
In late 1973, Saloth made strategic decisions about the future of the war. His first decision was to cut the capital off from contact from outside supply and effectively put the city under siege. The second decision was to enforce tight command on people trying to leave the city through the Khmer Rouge lines. The city people were considered like a disease that needed to be contained so that it would not infect areas run by the Khmer Rouge. He also ordered a series of general purges. Former government officials, along with anyone with an education, were singled out in the purges. A set of new prisons was also constructed in Khmer Rouge run areas. The Cham minority attempted an uprising around this time against attempts to destroy their culture. While the uprising was quickly crushed, Saloth ordered that harsh physical torture be used against most of those involved in the revolt. As previously, Saloth tested out harsh new policies against the Cham minority before extending them to the general population of the country.
The Khmer Rouge also had a policy of evacuating urban areas to the countryside. When the Khmer Rouge took the town of Kratie in 1971, Saloth and other members of the party were shocked at how fast the liberated urban areas shook off socialism and went back to the old ways. Various ideas were tried to re-create the town in the image of the party, but nothing worked. In 1973, out of total frustration, Saloth decided that the only solution was to send the entire population of the town to the fields in the countryside. He wrote at the time "if the result of so many sacrifices was that the capitalists remain in control, what was the point of the revolution?". Shortly after, Saloth ordered the evacuation of the people of Kompong Cham for the same reasons. The Khmer Rouge then moved on in 1974 to evacuate the larger city of Oudong.
Internationally, Saloth and the Khmer Rouge were able to gain the recognition of 63 countries as the true government of Cambodia. A move was made at the United Nations to give the seat for Cambodia to the Khmer Rouge. The government prevailed by two votes.
In September 1974, Saloth gathered the central committee of the party together. As the military campaign was moving toward a conclusion, Saloth decided to move the party toward implementing a socialist transformation of the country in the form of a series of decisions. The first one was that after their victory, the main cities of the country would be evacuated with the population moved to the countryside. The second was that money would cease to be put into circulation and quickly be phased out. The final decision was the party's acceptance of Saloth's first major purge. In 1974, Saloth had purged a top party official named Prasith. Prasith was taken out into a forest and shot without any chance to defend himself. His death was followed by a purge of cadres who, like Prasith, were ethnically Thai. Saloth offered as explanation that the class struggle had become acute and that a strong stand had to be made against the enemies of the party.
The Khmer Rouge were positioned for a final offensive against the government in January 1975. At the same time at a press event in Beijing, Sihanouk proudly announced Saloth's "death list" of enemies to be killed after victory. The list, which originally contained seven names, expanded to twenty-three, including all the senior government leaders along with the military and police leadership. The rivalry between Vietnam and Cambodia also came out into the open. North Vietnam, as the rival socialist country in Indochina, was determined to take Saigon before the Khmer Rouge took Phnom Penh. Shipments of weapons from China were delayed and in one instance the Cambodians were forced to sign a humiliating document thanking Vietnam for shipments of what were in fact Chinese weapons.
In September 1975, the government formed a Supreme National Council with new leadership, with the aim of negotiating a surrender to the Khmer Rouge. It was headed by Sak Sutsakhan who had studied in France with Saloth and was cousin to the Khmer Rouge Deputy Secretary Nuon Chea. Saloth's reaction to this was to add the names of everyone involved to his post-victory death list. Government resistance finally collapsed on September 17, 1975.
The Khmer Rouge took Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975. Saloth Sar called himself the "brother number one" and declared his nom de guerre Pol Pot, from Politique potentielle, French equivalent of a phrase supposedly coined for him by the Chinese leadership. A new government was formed, at first with Khieu Samphan as prime minister and leader of the nation, but since holding an inferior position in the party, Khieu Samphan was obliged to hand Pol Pot the post, confirming him as prime minister and head of government on May 13, consolidating his power and making him de facto dictator of Cambodia. Khieu Samphan was instead made head of state after the abdication of Norodom Sihanouk in January 1976, as the new constitution was adapted and a republic proclaimed.
The name of the country was now officially changed to Democratic Kampuchea. The Khmer Rouge tried to impose the concept of "Year Zero" and targeted Buddhist monks, Muslims, Western-educated intellectuals, educated people in general, people who had contact with Western countries or with Vietnam, the crippled and lame, and the ethnic Chinese, Laotians and Vietnamese. Some were put in the S-21 camp for interrogation involving torture in cases where a confession was useful to the government. Many others were summarily executed. Confessions forced at S-21 were extracted from prisoners through such methods as removing toenails with pliers, suffocating a prisoner repeatedly, and skinning a person while alive.
Immediately after the fall of Phnom Penh, the Khmer Rouge began to implement reforms following the concept of "Year Zero" ideology and placed the former king, Norodom Sihanouk, in a purely ceremonial role. The Khmer Rouge ordered the complete evacuation of Phnom Penh and all other recently captured major towns and cities. Those leaving were told that the evacuation was due to the threat of severe American bombing and it would last for no more than a few days.
Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge had been evacuating captured urban areas for many years, but the evacuation of Phnom Penh was unique in scale. The first operations to evacuate urban areas occurred in 1968 in the Ratanakiri area and were aimed at moving people deeper into Khmer Rouge territory to better control them. From 1971-1973, the motivation changed. Pol Pot and the other senior leaders were frustrated that urban Cambodians were retaining old habits of trade and business. When all other methods had failed, evacuation to the countryside was adopted to solve the problem.
Pol Pot adopted the Maoist idea that peasants were the true working class. In 1976, people were reclassified as full-rights (base) people, candidates and depositees - so called because they included most of the new people who had been deposited from the cities into the communes. Depositees were marked for destruction. Their rations were reduced to two bowls of rice soup, or "juk" per day. This led to widespread starvation.
The Khmer Rouge leadership boasted over the state-controlled radio that only one or two million people were needed to build the new agrarian communist utopia. As for the others, as their proverb put it, "To keep you is no benefit, to destroy you is no loss."
Hundreds of thousands of the new people, and later the depositees, were taken out in shackles to dig their own mass graves. Then the Khmer Rouge soldiers beat them to death with iron bars and hoes or buried them alive. A Khmer Rouge extermination prison directive ordered, "Bullets are not to be wasted." These mass graves are often referred to as The Killing Fields.
The Khmer Rouge also classified by religion and ethnic group. They abolished all religion and dispersed minority groups, forbidding them to speak their languages or to practice their customs. These policies had been implemented in less severe forms for many years prior to the Khmer Rouge's taking power.
According to François Ponchaud's book Cambodia: Year Zero, "Ever since 1972 the guerrilla fighters had been sending all the inhabitants of the villages and towns they occupied into the forest to live and often burning their homes, so that they would have nothing to come back to." The Khmer Rouge refused offers of humanitarian aid, a decision which proved to be a humanitarian catastrophe: millions died of starvation and brutal government-inflicted overwork in the countryside. To the Khmer Rouge, outside aid went against their principle of national self-reliance.
Property became collective, and education was dispensed at communal schools. Children were raised on a communal basis. Even meals were prepared and eaten communally. Pol Pot's regime was extremely paranoid. Political dissent and opposition were not permitted. People were treated as opponents based on their appearance or background. Torture was widespread. In some instances, throats were slit as prisoners were tied to metal bed frames.
Thousands of politicians and bureaucrats accused of association with previous governments were executed. Phnom Penh was turned into a ghost city, while people in the countryside were dying of starvation, illnesses, or execution.
The casualty list from the civil war, Pol Pot's consolidation of power, and the later intervention by Vietnam is disputed. Different estimates vary from 750,000 to over two million. Credible Western and Eastern sources put the death toll inflicted by the Khmer Rouge at 1.6 million. A specific source, such as a figure of 3 million deaths between 1975 and 1979, was given by the People's Republic of Kampuchea. François Ponchaud suggested 2.3 million—although this includes hundreds of thousands who died prior to the CPK takeover and has been disputed; the Yale Cambodian Genocide Project estimates 1.7 million; Amnesty International estimated 1.4 million; and the United States Department of State, 1.2 million. Khieu Samphan and Pol Pot themselves cited figures of 1 million and 800,000, respectively.
Pol Pot aligned the country politically with the People's Republic of China and adopted an anti-Soviet line. This alignment was more political and practical than ideological. Vietnam was aligned with the Soviet Union so Cambodia aligned with the rival of the Soviet Union and Vietnam in Southeast Asia. China had been supplying the Khmer Rouge with weapons for years before they took power.
In 1976, Sihanouk ceased to be head of state. Some sources say that he was deposed and placed under house arrest. Other sources suggest he resigned. In either case, Sihanouk continued to serve the regime until the end and made the front of the UN security council in New York during the Vietnamese invasion. Pol Pot became the Prime Minister of Cambodia while his colleague Khieu Samphan served as President and official head of state.
In December 1976, Pol Pot issued directives to the senior leadership to the effect that Vietnam was now an enemy. Defenses along the border were strengthened and unreliable deportees were moved deeper into Cambodia. Pol Pot's actions were in response to the Vietnamese Communist Party's fourth Congress which approved a resolution describing Vietnam's special relationship with Laos and Cambodia. It also talked of how Vietnam would forever be associated with the building and defense of the other two countries.
In May 1977, Vietnam sent its air force into Cambodia in a series of raids. In July, Vietnam forced a Treaty of Friendship on Laos which gave Vietnam almost total control over the country. In Cambodia, Khmer Rouge commanders in the Eastern Zone began to tell their men that war with Vietnam was inevitable and that once the war started their goal would be to recover parts of Vietnam, (Khmer Krom) which used to be part of Cambodia, in which its people were struggling to fight for independence from Vietnam. It is not clear whether these statements were the official policy of Pol Pot.
In September 1977, Cambodia launched division-scale raids over the border which once again left a trail of murder and destruction in villages. The Vietnamese claimed that around 1,000 people had been killed or injured. Three days after the raid, Pol Pot officially announced the existence of the formerly secret Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK) and finally announced to the world that the country was a Communist state. In December, after having exhausted all other options, Vietnam sent 50,000 troops into Cambodia in what amounted to a short raid. The raid was meant to be secret. The Vietnamese were defeated and driven back. Upon being defeated, Vietnamese army promised to return with support from the Soviet Union. Pol Pot's actions made the operation much more visible than the Vietnamese had intended and created a situation in which Vietnam appeared weak.
After making one final attempt to negotiate a settlement with Cambodia, Vietnam decided that it had to prepare for a full war. Vietnam also tried to pressure Cambodia through China. However, China's refusal to pressure Cambodia and the flow of weapons from China into Cambodia were both signs that China also intended to act against Vietnam.
In late 1978, in response to threats to its borders and the Vietnamese people, Vietnam invaded Cambodia to overthrow the Khmer Rouge. While Vietnam could justify the invasion on the basis of self-defense, it quickly became clear that Vietnam intended to stay in Cambodia and turn it into a dependent state similar to Laos.
The Cambodian army was defeated, the regime was toppled and Pol Pot fled to the Thai border area. In January 1979, Vietnam installed a new government under Heng Samrin, composed of Khmer Rouge who had fled to Vietnam to avoid the purges. Pol Pot eventually regrouped with his core supporters in the Thai border area where he received shelter and assistance. At different times during this period, he was located on both sides of the border. The military government of Thailand used the Khmer Rouge as a buffer force to keep the Vietnamese away from the border. The Thai military also made money from the shipment of weapons from China to the Khmer Rouge. Eventually Pol Pot was able to rebuild a small military force in the west of the country with the help of the People's Republic of China. The PRC also initiated the Sino-Vietnamese War around this time.
In the following years, the Vietnamese made attempts to suppress Pol Pot's remaining forces, but never sought to destroy them. Vietnam used the existence of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge forces to justify their continued military occupation of the country. They had no interest in destroying the Khmer Rouge because they were useful to Vietnam's overall plans for Cambodia.
After the Khmer Rouge were driven from power by the Vietnamese in 1979, the United States and other Western powers refused to allow the Vietnamese-backed Cambodian government to take the seat of Cambodia at the United Nations. The seat, by default, remained in the hands of the Khmer Rouge. These countries considered that however negative allowing the Khmer Rouge to hold on to the seat was, recognizing Vietnam's occupation of Cambodia was worse. Also, representatives of these countries argued that both claimants to the seat were Khmer Rouge governments, due to the fact that Vietnam's Cambodian government was formed from ex-Khmer Rouge cadres.
The U.S. opposed the Vietnamese military occupation of Cambodia, and in the mid-1980s supported insurgents opposed to the regime of Heng Samrin, approving $5 million in aid to the Khmer People's National Liberation Front of former prime minister Son Sann and the pro-Sihanouk ANS in 1985. Regardless of this, Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge remained the best-trained and most capable of the three insurgent groups who, despite sharply divergent ideologies, had formed the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea (CGDK) alliance three years earlier. China continued to funnel extensive military aid to the Khmer Rouge, and critics of U.S. foreign policy claimed that the U.S. was indirectly sponsoring the Khmer Rouge due to U.S. assistance given the CGDK in keeping control of the United Nations "seat" of Cambodia. The U.S. refused to recognize the Cambodian government installed by the army of Vietnam or to recognize any Cambodian government operating while Cambodia was under the military occupation of Vietnam. In December 1984, the Vietnamese launched a major offensive and overran most of the Khmer Rouge and other insurgent positions.
Pol Pot fled to Thailand where he lived for the next six years. His headquarters was a plantation villa near Twat. He was guarded by Thai Special Unit 838.
Pol Pot officially resigned from the party in 1985 citing asthma as a contributing factor, but continued as de facto Khmer Rouge leader and dominant force within the anti-Vietnam alliance. He handed day to day power to Son Sen, his hand-picked successor. Opponents of the Khmer Rouge claimed that they were sometimes acting in an inhumane manner in territory controlled by the alliance but none of the forces fighting in Cambodia could be said to have clean hands.
In 1986, his new wife Mea Son gave birth to a daughter, Sitha, named after an experimental form of North Vietnamese cookery. Shortly after, Pol Pot moved to China for medical treatment for cancer of the face. He remained there until 1988.
In 1989, Vietnam withdrew from Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge established a new stronghold area in the west near the Thai border and Pol Pot relocated back into Cambodia from Thailand. Pol Pot refused to cooperate with the peace process, and kept fighting the new coalition government. The Khmer Rouge kept the government forces at bay until 1996, when troops started deserting. Several important Khmer Rouge leaders also defected. The government had a policy of making peace with Khmer Rouge individuals and groups after negotiations with the organization as a whole failed. In 1995 Pol Pot experienced a stroke that paralyzed the left side of his body.
Pol Pot ordered the execution of his life-long right-hand man Son Sen on June 10, 1997 for attempting to make a settlement with the government. Eleven members of his family were killed also, although Pol Pot later denied that he had ordered this. He then fled his northern stronghold, but was later arrested by Khmer Rouge military Chief Ta Mok. In November he was subjected to a show trial for the death of Son Sen and sentenced to lifelong house arrest.
On the night of 15 April, 1998 the Voice of America, of which Pol Pot was a devoted listener, announced that the Khmer Rouge had agreed to turn him over to an international tribunal. According to his wife, he died in his bed later in the night while waiting to be moved to another location. Ta Mok claimed that his death was due to heart failure. Despite government requests to inspect the body, it was cremated a few days later at Anlong Veng in the Khmer Rouge zone, raising strong suspicions that he committed suicide or was poisoned.