Frontline World

Cambodia - Pol Pot's Shadow, October, 2002

Synopsis of "Pol Pot's Shadow"

In Search of Justice

Historical Analysis: The U.S. and Cambodia

The Rapper, the Dancer, and the Storyteller

Learn more about Cambodia

Genocide, War Crimes, Politics




Diary Entry 7
MALAI - Pol Pot’s Heir

Suong Sikoeun


Pol Pot's Heir

Suong Sikoeun is a Khmer Rouge intellectual and Pol Pot's former assistant. Now he teaches English to the sons and daughters of his Khmer Rouge cadre. It's a bucolic scene as Suong leads an outdoor class under his raised house. It's also incredibly ironic: The Khmer Rouge were so opposed to anything foreign that they had banned the speaking of any foreign languages.

Although Suong served as a member of the foreign ministry during the Khmer Rouge regime, he claims he didn't know about the hardships, torture and executions people were suffering at the time. He claims it was only when he was leading a foreign diplomat on a guided tour of the countryside that he began to suspect some of the disastrous effects of the Khmer Rouge policies.

Pol Pot on the beach with his daughter circa 1991
"I see the people who didn't eat enough, the people who work very hard, even [through] the night," he remembers. "People asked us to bring them to Phnom Penh because it was very difficult to live in the countryside -- hard work, summary execution and so on ..."

Suong is a small balding man with cataract-clouded eyes that look almost blue. He has the particularly Cambodian trait of finding just about any subject, no matter how shocking or horrible, worthy of a chuckle.

He remembers Pol Pot as a handsome "bon vivant," although a man who would, he says, in halting English, "talk to you white but do black."

"It was very easy to live with him," he recalls. "He's a kind of no-problem man -- no problem with him. No problem. No problem. Even if you kill a thousand people, there be no problem." Suong laughs heartily.

Pol Pot's teenage daughter
As we're filming the English class, we're tipped off that one of the girls in the second row is Pol Pot's teenage daughter. She's been in hiding in Phnom Penh since her father's death and hasn't been seen in public for four years. Now she's staying with relatives here. Suong says she has "many names," but here "she goes by the name 'Malee.'"

Once the girl had been pointed out to us, the resemblance was uncanny. I had seen a picture of her from 1998, stringy-haired, shy and suffering from chronic malaria as she mourned at her father's grave.

It was amazing to see what a dramatic change she had undergone since her days as a communist daughter in the jungle. Malee sits giggling with her friends like any other teenager, learning a language that might have meant a death sentence under her father's regime.

Even though Malee obviously had nothing to do with any Khmer Rouge crime, it's hard to imagine being Pol Pot's daughter in Cambodia.

Suong tells us not to worry. "Pol Pot has no heir," he laughs. "No heir at all."

NEXT: PAILIN: Land Mines and Sapphires

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