NEW YORK : Dith Pran ,
whose experiences during the Cambodian genocide of the 1970s were
adapted into the award-winning movie "The Killing Fields," died on
Sunday at the age of 65.
who had been battling pancreatic cancer since January, died in the
early hours at a hospital in New Jersey with his ex-wife at his side,
his friend, the former New York Times correspondent Sydney Schanberg,
"Pran was a special
person, a very special person. Messages are pouring in from people who
met him only once saying that he made a deep impression on them. And he
did, on everybody," said Schanberg, who was at Dith’s bedside until
"He really meant everything to me."
had worked as a photojournalist at The New York Times since 1980. His
connection with the newspaper began when he worked with Schanberg from
1972 to 1975 covering the Cambodian civil war, a conflict that had
spilled over from neighbouring Vietnam.
American citizens were evacuated from Phnom Penh on April 12, 1975,
Dith and Schanberg stayed behind to cover the fall of the city to the
communist Khmer Rouge, who were then closing in on the capital.
Dith and two other reporters were arrested by the Khmer Rouge and held
for execution, but Dith managed to persuade his captors that the three
Westerners were neutral French journalists.
four were later released and sought refuge in the French embassy until
foreigners there were asked to surrender their passports.
was then exiled to the forced labour camps in rural Cambodia that
became known as the killing fields, where for four years he suffered
starvation and torture.
two million people died of lack of food and overwork or were executed
by the regime, which dismantled Cambodian society in an effort to forge
a radical agrarian utopia.
meanwhile, went on to win a Pulitzer Prize in 1976 for his coverage of
the conflict, accepting the award for himself and Dith, who only
managed to escape to freedom in Thailand in 1979.
was my brother, that’s what we called each other," Schanberg told AFP.
"Pran lost his three biological brothers when they were killed by the
Khmer Rouge and we bonded when I started working with him.
turns out we both had the same mission, which was to tell the rest of
the world what was happening to the Cambodian people – in Pran’s case,
his people – and that was the mission the rest of his life."
an interview with New Jersey’s Star Ledger newspaper in March, Dith
said he was not going to give into cancer without a battle.
have already forced the enemy into the suburbs," Dith said of his
cancer after a round of radiotherapy. "Food, medicine and meditation
are good soldiers, and I am ready to fight."
on September 27, 1942, near Cambodia’s Angkor Wat temple complex, Dith
worked in the tourist business before joining Schanberg.
was really a gifted reporter, not just a helper and assistant and
interpreter. It was he who made my work possible. None of what I did
could have been half as good as it may have been without Pran,"
Dith lost his
father, three brothers and one sister during the Khmer Rouge’s reign of
terror, but always remained hopeful for future generations.
was always smiling. I wish everybody in the world had met him, because
they too would smile and would probably think more positive thoughts
and do more positive things," Schanberg said.
Dith went on to set up The Dith Pran
Holocaust Awareness Project, an organisation devoted to educating new
generations about genocide in the hope of avoiding a repeat of the past.
And in 1985, he was appointed Goodwill Ambassador by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
of my life is saving life. I don’t consider myself a politician or a
hero. I’m a messenger. If Cambodia is to survive, she needs many
voices," he once said of his work.
"I’m a one-person crusade," he added. "I must speak for those who did not survive and for those who still suffer." – AFP/de