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Uncertain future for the widow and daughter of a despot

Uncertain future for the widow and daughter of a despot

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SILENT WITNESSES

Pol Pot's daughter Mea Sith, 14, wife Mea Son, 40, and at right his jailer Non Nou at a press conference on the Thai-Cambodian border, the day before Pol Pot's funeral.

FOR a genocidal maniac, Pol Pot was reputed to have great personal charm and for at least two women it was enough for them to marry him.

And his appeal seemed to be broad - from an older intellectual to a younger peasant.

For a man that inflicted great cruelty on the masses he is remembered fondly by his family. His second wife Mea Son, 40, and daughter Mea Sith, 14, said he was good to them.

Son spoke -albeit briefly - to reporters two days after the death of her husband. She was accompanied by Sith, who said nothing.

They were dressed alike. Both wore the same striped shirt and green plastic sandals.

Sith peered out occasionally through her long black fringe at the reporters gathered. But most of the time she looked at the ground and held her mother's hand.

Neither showed much emotion till a group of cameramen made a rush at them. At that point Son, holding onto her daughter, turned her back and stormed off. Intervention by Thai soldiers and a KR spokesman calmed the situation and the interview continued.

"He was a good husband to me, we met in 1985," she said.

At that time Pol Pot was 60 and she was 27. But despite the age gap, Son said the marriage was happy.

"I am very sad that he has died and I do not know what the future may bring."

The marriage to Son was a far cry from Pol Pot's first marriage to French-educated Khieu Ponnary, whose younger sister Thirith would eventually marry Ieng Sary.

The relationship is documented in David Chandler's book Brother Number One. Chandler says they met in 1951 in Paris where Pol Pot was studying electronics and she Khmer linguistics. However they did not appear to have had much contact since the mid-1970s when she is reported to have suffered ill health, eventually being treated for a breakdown during the early 1980s.

Their relationship was unusual. She was eight years older than Pot and from a middle class background.

Her father, a judge, ran off to Battambang during the Second World War with a Cambodian princess, leaving their mother to raise the family.

Chandler speculates that this may have hardened both Ponnary and Thirith's "attitude towards the raffish Cambodian elite".

Ponnary was certainly intellectually gifted. Both she and her sister gained baccalaureates, "a rare achievement for women at the time".

After her return from France she taught in Takeo. At the same time she was politically active - working with Pot and his former mentor Keng Vannsak.

Chandler says she was well liked by her students but contemporaries were unsettled by her commitment to career, politics and austerity.

Unlike others with personal connections to the top ranks of the Khmer Rouge hierarchy after 1975, she did not have a position in the government.

She was last seen publicly in 1978 when she was hailed as "mother of the revolution." She then disappeared but was reported to have been treated for a psychiatric illness in Beijing.

She gave Pol Pot permission to marry Son in 1985 but did not achieve her desire to visit her former husband after that.

Pol Pot's final jailer Non Nou said that she had never made contact with him and he was unaware of any attempts to do so.

He said it was likely the trip from Pailin to Anlong Veng would have been too much for her and she would not have been allowed to travel.

Meanwhile for Pol Pot's current family they are uncertain of what will now happen to them.

Nou said they have put themselves in the hands of the new Khmer Rouge leadership and it is likely that they will go back and live around Anlong Veng.

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