Saloth Seng: happy his brother is dead
Tt was like any other day 20 years ago, Saloth Nhep was eating baba, the regular
rice soup, in the communal kitchen set up by the Khmer Rouge.
"I remember, it was sometime in mid-1978, not too long before the Vietnamese
arrived. I was eating when [Khmer Rouge cadres] came and they put up a picture. The
loudspeaker said it was the portrait of Pol Pot. Then, I knew that my brother was
Pol Pot. I was scared," remembers Nhep.
Nhep is the youngest of Pol Pot's brothers. He bears a strong resemblance to him.
Tall, he has the same eyes, the same long forehead, the same gray hair. He talks
with a quiet voice, waiting for the question. From time to time he smiles.
"Before I saw that picture, I would have never thought that my brother was involved
in politics," Nhep says, as if he has to vindicate himself from having such
In the village of Prek Sbau, where Saloth Sar was born, Nhep heard the news of Pol
Pot's death from Voice of America radio more than 24 hours after it was officially
announced. "I was a bit shocked. He is a member of my family, he is my brother,"
Nhep's feelings are not shared by the oldest brother of Pol Pot, Saloth Seng.
"I did not feel anything really. In fact, I was happy [he died] because Pol
Pot had killed a lot of people. Life was difficult because of him," says Seng,
who is 85 years-old.
The two brothers are living next to one another but they never mention the name of
Pol Pot between themselves. A sister lives in Kampong Thom town. Pol Pot's siblings
say they do not suffer from being related to the leader of Angkar.
As Nhep puts it, "people do not judge me for the faults of my brother."
On the market square of Prek Sbau, not very far from Nhep's house, a woman just coming
back from taking her bath confirms this. The woman says that Sar's brother are good
people. "I do not feel like taking revenge on them.
"I am really happy to hear that Pol Pot died, if it is true," she adds
with a touch of disbelief. "He created the war."
The woman used to work as a maid in Sar's family. She remembers the young Sar before
he left to go and study. "When he was a kid, he was a normal boy but after he
went to study in Phnom Penh and France he became a cruel person." She laughs
when asked whether she thinks that the fact Sar studied made him cruel. "I do
not know, but he wanted to be a top leader."
Nhep and Seng also underline that their brother was separated from the family when
he was very young. Seng says he has very few souvenirs of Sar, who was ten years
younger than him. He insists that he never really knew his brother. He just says
he was a normal boy.
Nhep has more recollections. He was born just two years after Sar.
"He was gentle and he did not like to pick a fight with the others. He was as
nice as a girl," said Nhep. As he was talking to himself, he adds: "Nothing
let us suggest that he could do what he did afterwards."
Sar left the village and was sent to Phnom Penh to be looked after by a relative
who had a position at the Royal Palace. "I stayed in the village and helped
my parents to work in the ricefields. [Sar] was more intellectual. He was studying
in Phnom Penh and then received a grant to go to France. He came back once or twice
a year," says Nhep.
The man recalls a celebration when Sar came back in the village. It was for the funeral
of their father. Sar came and built the stupa. Nhep could not remember which year
in the 1960s it was.
The only thing he can recall is one sentence his brother told him.
"'Brother, your work in the fields is as important as mine. You are judged by
the work you accomplish'. I think he told me that to encourage me. But he never talked
about politics," insists Nhep.
Nhep kept repeating "I did not see my brother very often. Last time I saw him,
it was may be 30 years ago. I have a son who is 30 years old and he never knew him."
In the mid-60s, Saloth Sar disappeared. He did not come back to the village and the
family worried. They started looking for him but in vain. When the family's house
was bombed during American raids over Cambodia, they tried to warn him. Sar remained
When the Khmer Rouge entered Phnom Penh, all the population was deported. Nhep and
Seng had to leave their home village and were relocated in a camp ruled by an unfamiliar
"Life was difficult. I though it was unfair for Pol Pot to deport all the people,"
"I was only wishing that someone would come to help the people," says Seng.
That is what the two brothers thought till one day in 1978 when the cadre put up
the portrait and they realized the truth.
"When I realized he was my brother, I did not talk to anyone. I was really scared.
I was afraid that people would take their revenge on me."
Seng's feeling was stronger. "After I saw the picture of Pol Pot, I could not
believe he could do things like that because he was quite different when he was a
young man." Khmer Rouge soldiers tried to arrest him after learning that he
was the leader's brother.
"They said they wanted him to study, but I knew that I would not have seen him
again if the soldiers had taken him," says Chheng Kiem, Seng's wife.
Support from people in the village dissuaded the Khmer Rouge from arresting Seng.
Seng does not understand even today why he was about to be arrested.
"After the Vietnamese entered I was really happy because I was released from
Pol Pot. I do not want to know what happened to him," says Seng angrily.
Talking about the Pol Pot era, Seng keeps using his krama to hold back his tears.
Seated next to him, his wife is listening and she cannot stop herself from crying.
At the beginning of the Khmer Rouge, Seng lost a son who was a Lon Nol soldier. "He
was crying and asking me to help him. But they caught him and I could not do anything.
I never knew what happened to him," says the old man in a quiet voice, before
On Saturday morning, at the time when Pol Pot was cremated, Nhep offered up some
prayers. "I pray for his soul to be reincarnated in another world... according
to his karma."
As for Seng, he smiles and says: "No need for me to pray. I do not like Pol