Pol PotPolitical Leader
Died: 15 April 1998
Birthplace: Kompong Thong Province, Cambodia
Best known as: Ruthless Cambodian communist leader of the 1970s
Name at birth: Saloth Sar
Pol Pot and his army, called the Khmer Rouge, came to power in Cambodia (Kampuchea) in 1975. He was named prime minister of the new communist government in 1976 and began a program of violent reform. The Khmer Rouge abolished currency, religion and private property and evacuated cities in the hopes of creating a Maoist agrarian society free of Western influence (though, like Mao, Pol Pot had studied the works of V. I. Lenin and Karl Marx in Europe). Under his regime, forced labor, executions and famine killed between 1.5 and 2 million Cambodians (more than 20% of the population). When Vietnam invaded Cambodia in 1979, Pol Pot -- called "Brother Number One" by followers -- was ousted from the capital, Phnom Penh, but continued to lead the Khmer Rouge army in exile. He resigned as leader of the army in 1985, and by the late '90s a split in the Khmer Rouge caused his former comrades to turn on him and imprison him for murder. He died unrepentant in 1998, the cause of death still a mystery: some say he had a heart attack, some say he was murdered and some say he killed himself. In 2001 it was announced that his final hideout would be turned into a museum.
Extra credit: Pol Pot is frequently named among the baddest guys in history, along with Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler... He was also referred to by his followers as "Brother Number One"... the countryside of Cambodia was dubbed "the killing fields" because of the Khmer Rouge atrocities.
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