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The inside story of Pol Pot

That night, Ta Mok had wanted to move Pol Pot to another house for security reasons. "He was sitting in his chair waiting for the car to come. But he felt tired. Pol Pot's wife asked him to take a rest. He lay down in his bed. His wife heard a gasp of air. It was the sound of dying. When she touched him he had passed away already. It was at 10:15 last night."

There are no signs of foul play, but Pol Pot has a pained expression on his face, as if he did not die peacefully. One eye is shut and the other half open. Cotton balls are stuffed up his nostrils to prevent leakage of body fluids. By his body lie his rattan fan, blue-and-red peasant scarf, bamboo cane and white plastic sandals. His books and other possessions have been confiscated since he was ousted by his comrades in an internal power struggle 10 months earlier. Two vases of purple bougainvillea stand at the head of the bed. Otherwise, the room is empty, save for a small short-wave radio.

Pol Pot listened religiously to Voice of America broadcasts on that radio, but the April 15 news on the Khmer-language service may have been too much to bear. The lead story was the REVIEW's report that Khmer Rouge leaders--desperate for food, medicine and international support--had decided to turn him over to an international tribunal to face trial for crimes against humanity. "He listened to VOA every night, and VOA on Wednesday reported your story at 8 p.m. that he would be turned over to an international court," says Gen. Khem Nuon, the Khmer Rouge army chief-of-staff. "We thought the shock of him hearing this on VOA might have killed him."

A week earlier, Nuon had said that Pol Pot knew of the decision, but now he says the ageing leader had not been fully informed. "We decided clearly to send him" to an international court, says Nuon, "but we only told him that we were in a very difficult situation and perhaps it was better that he go abroad. Tears came to his eyes when I told him that."

Perched nervously by the deathbed is Pol Pot's wife, a 40-year-old former ammunition porter for the Khmer Rouge named Muon. Clutching her hand is their 12-year-old daughter, Mul. A peasant woman, Muon says she has never laid eyes on a Westerner before. She corroborates Ta Mok's account of Pol Pot's death. "Last night, he said he felt dizzy. I asked him to lie down. I heard him make a noise. When I went to touch him, he had died."

Pol Pot married her after his first wife went insane in the 1980s as the Khmer Rouge tried to survive in the jungle after their reign of terror was ended by invading Vietnamese troops. Muon seems oblivious to her husband's bloodstained past, caught only in the anguish of the present.

"He told me a few weeks ago: 'My father died at 73. I am 73 now. My time is not far away,'" she says. "It was a way of telling me that he was preparing to die." Reaching down to caress his face, she bursts into tears. "He was always a good husband. He tried his best to educate the children not to be traitors. Since I married him in 1985, I never saw him do a bad thing."

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