THIS WEEK IN HISTORY
Vol. 7, No. 8
April 24 to May 7 1998
WHEN a young Khmer Rouge civilian who happened apparently to be passing nearby took out his yellow plastic cigarette lighter and ignited the gas-soaked funeral pyre containing the body of Pol Pot, it was just another chore in a day of work.
There was no grief at the demise of a loved one - his wife and daughter stayed away. There was no elation here at the passing of a despot. Aside from the witnesses - his jailer, Non Nou, and a single Thai army officer - there were only the barest number of people needed to build a simple box and burn it.
Pol Pot died empty. He had long ago rid himself of humanity and compassion.
His final usefulness as a doddering old man was as a political bargaining chip, and in death his body was a devaluing public relations prop for the "revamped" hardline Khmer Rouge.
Even as a symbol, he was at best worthless and, recently, little more than an embarrassment.
He had nothing else to offer. Even the ashes of his disease-wracked body, soaked in formalin as it had been, are unlikely to provide much nourishment to the soil - soil in which he once saw the future of the Cambodian proletariat.
"Pol Pot is dead, and I am very happy." With those words, Non Nou confirmed the rumours on Thursday morning, April 16 - the day before the 23rd anniversary of the Khmer Rouge takeover of Cambodia.
He told reporters that Pol Pot had died at 11:15 the previous night in the two-storied house the family lived in just north of Anlong Veng. He was apparently discovered by his wife Mea Son when she went to put a mosquito net over him.
From there, the curtain went up on a bizarre freak show, with Thai soldiers acting as ushers as Khmer Rouge wheeled out the main attraction.
Most people were wearing the traditional Mao-style hats and green fatigues, though one soldier had opted for a Cindy Crawford T-shirt.
Grief was not evident.