Monday, March 31, 2008

Dith Pran - Survivor Of The Killing Fields

Dith Pran, the man who told the world about Pol Pot’s genocide from 1975-1978 and spent his lifetime raising awareness of it and demanding justice for its victims, died of cancer on March 30, 2008.

He was 65.

Born on September 27, 1942 in Cambodia, Pran was a photojournalist who worked with the New York Times during its coverage of the United States occupation of Cambodia from 1970-1975.

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 extreme communist Khmer Rouge forces headed by Pol Pot.

Schanberg and other foreign reporters were allowed to leave the country by Pol Pot, but Pran was not permitted to do so.

Alongside many educated Cambodians, Pran was forced to work in a forced labour camp.

Pran had to endure four years of starvation and torture before finally escaping to Thailand in 1979.

He coined the phrase "killing fields" to refer to the clusters of skeletal remains of victims he encountered during his 80km escape.

His three brothers were killed back in Cambodia.

From 1980, Pran worked as a photojournalist with the New York Times in the United States.

He also campaigned for recognition of the Cambodian Genocide victims, especially as founder and president of the Dith Pran Holocaust Awareness Project.

One of his closest friends was Dr Haing S. Ngor, who portrayed him in the 1985 film The Killing Fields.

The Killing Fields earned Ngor a Best Supporting Actor award in the Oscars.

Ngor, who was born on March 22, 1940 in Cambodia, was a gynaecologist who practised medicine in Phnom Penh.

He was captured by Pol Pot’s forces when they drove the American troops out of Cambodia in 1975.

Ngor and his wife My Huoy were forced to work in labour camps and endured torture and starvation for four years.

My Huoy eventually died giving birth to their child in her camp.

After Hun Sen’s forces and the Vietnamese army routed the Khmer Rouge in 1978, Ngor fled to Thailand and subsequently became an American citizen.

In 1988, he wrote the book A Cambodian Odyssey, describing his life under the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.

On February 25, 1996, Ngor was shot dead by three robbers outside his house in Los Angeles.

They stole a locket containing a photograph of his wife, and many Cambodians believe the robbers, who are now spending life in prison, were paid agents of the Khmer Rouge.

The Dr Haing S. Ngor Foundation was founded in his honour in 1997 to assist in raising funds for Cambodia.

Before his death, Ngor built an elementary school and a sawmill that provided jobs and an income for local families.

Ngor's niece, Sophia Ngor, heads the foundation.

Ngor did not only star in The Killing Fields. He also appeared in the film Heaven On Earth and the TV series Miami Vice among others.

Before his death, he said: "If I die from now on, OK! This film will go on for a hundred years."

Dith Pran called Ngor his “twin” and “co-messenger”.