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Historical Dictionary

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POL POT (SALOTH SAR, 1925–1998)

Pol Pot became infamous for the terror he unleashed against his own people in the late 1970s, but he had little if any influence in the Cambodian communist movement during the Indochina War. Besides the six months he spent as a Buddhist novice in the 1930s, Saloth Sar received a French education in colonial Cambodia. Between 1937 and 1942, he pursued his elementary studies at the École Miche before continuing them at the Collège Preah Sihanouk between 1942 and 1947. Between 1947 and 1949, he attended a technical school in Phnom Penh. He was a mediocre student at best. His life changed, however, when he met Ieng Sary, who introduced him to national and more radical politics in Phnom Penh. The Franco-Vietnamese war was underway to the east and the abosolute monarchy was coming under fire in Cambodia. Both joined the Democrat Party. In 1949, Saloth Sar obtained a government scholarship to study in France, where he enrolled at the École d’ingénieurs des technologies de l’information et du management in Paris. However, studies were not high on his list of priorities and he never received a diploma before returning to Cambodia in January 1953. Instead he became increasingly involved in left-wing politics in Paris, agitating with French and Vietnamese communists active in France at the time. In 1951, he joined a communist cell, affiliated with the French Communist Party, called the Cercle marxiste. Upon his return to Cambodia in 1953, he briefly served in a Vietnamese–Cambodian military unit. However, Saloth Sar had little influence in a Cambodian communist movement that had developed in alliance with Vietnamese communists. He was probably unknown to the powerful Party Affairs Committee (Ban Can Su) that ran the Cambodian communist movement under Son Ngoc Minh and Nguyen Thanh Son. At the end of the Indochina War, Saloth Sar was among those who demobilized and returned to Phnom Penh instead of regrouping to north Vietnam. This allowed him to assert his influence and ultimately take over the communist movement in Cambodia and divorce it from its Indochinese past and framework. See also ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICE FOR THE FRONTIER; COMMITTEE FOR EXTERNAL AFFAIRS; COMMITTEE FOR THE EAST, LAO ISSARA.