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The Survivor on the Killing Fields

Cambodia gives us our newest Southeast Asian of the Month!

Suffering a great tragedy during the Khmer Rouge times, Dith Pran tells us how hard it is for an intelligent man to act like a fool in front of fools who act intelligently.

Dith Pran was born on September 27, 1942 in Siem Reap, Cambodia which was then French Indochina. Pran grew up from a middle-class family residing near the Angkor Wat ruins with his two sisters and three brothers. His father, Preoung was a public-works official who managed the roadworks. Pran attended local schools where he learned french. In 1960, he worked as an interpreter for the U.S. Military Assistance Command in Cambodia.

During the withdrawal of the U.S. forces in Cambodia, Pran worked with a british film crew and at a hotel near Angkor Wat. n 1970 a U.S.-backed leader, Lon Nol, seized power in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh. War broke out between Lon Nol's forces and those of the Khmer Rouge, or "Red Cambodians," another Communist group. The Khmer Rouge wanted Cambodia to return to farming to meet its citizens' needs and to destroy anything linked to the West. Pran moved with his family to Phnom Penh where he was hired as an interpreter for the New York Times including Sydney Schanberg.

When the Khmer Rouge seemed to become stronger and chaos started to engulf Cambodia, thousands of Cambodians tried to escape. Aboard a U.S. military truck, Pran helped his wife and four children to escape while he stayed with Schanberg for their jobs thinking that things would eventually calm down. But then again, the Khmer spread their wrath all over the country.

Then came the times where everything the Khmer Rouge did was to kill, shoot and loot. Soldiers mercilessly shoot people in the streets and many were killed as almost three million Cambodians evacuated. Pran, Schanberg, and two other reporters went to a hospital to see how many were dead or injured and were met by a group of armed Khmer Rouge soldiers. Pran talked the soldiers out of killing Schanberg and the others, saving their lives. Schanberg soon returned to the United States, where he looked after Pran's wife and children in New York, New York.

However, Pran remained stuck in Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge ordered the execution of everyone who wore glasses, perfume, makeup, watches, or other evidence of Western influence so Pran dressed himself as a peasant and blended in with the people in a village not far from Siem Reap. They were forced to harvest rice and received political instructions nightly. They were only allowed to eat one spoonful of rice daily so, he with the other starving villagers fed from barks, snakes, rats and even the flesh of dead bodies. One night Pran dared to sneak out to try to eat some raw rice. For this the guards ordered his fellow villagers to beat him and leave him outside in a rainstorm.

Almost two million Cambodians were killed in this age and yet the world was deaf. When a group of european reporters visited, he managed to send a message to Schanberg through a member of the East German Media. He escaped after the Vietnamese found out the he had once been a reporter. In July 1979, Pran and several others set out on a sixty-mile journey amidst Vietnamese and Khmer forces and land mines to a refugee camp in the Thai borders.

When he arrived, he contated Schanberg who arrived a week later. Schanberg then helped Pran move to the United States where he was reunited with his family. The New York Times gave him a job as a reporter and became a U.S. citizen in 1986.

Pran began to devote his spare time to helping fellow Cambodians who had suffered under the Khmer Rouge. He took several trips back to Cambodia and attempted to bring the Khmer Rouge to justice before the World Court. He and his wife operate the Dith Pran Holocaust Awareness Project, which maintains a photographic record on the Internet to assist Cambodians in finding missing family members. Pran interviewed twenty-nine people who had suffered during the takeover and published the results in 1997 as Children of Cambodia's Killing Fields: Memoirs by Survivors. For Pran, the ghosts of Cambodia remain, and the memories are "Still alive to me day and night," he said in an online interview at The Site. "It's unbelievable what [the Khmer Rouge] did to the Cambodian people."

Dith Pran, a true noble Southeast Asian!

infos and photo courtesy of


Project Enlighten said...

Thank you for the amazing article! Dith Pran has inspired us with our work in Cambodia!
His voice echo's with substance and truth!

Asad Rahman
International Manager.
Project Enlighten.

Charlie -Denith- Samsokrith said...

Thanks for your comments and support. We will bring more essential articles to this blog.

Jiwa Matahari said...

Truly an amazing man, he continue to inspire us all. Great article, bravo!