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Name of leader          Pol Pot


Birth Name                       Saloth Sâr

Organization                    Khmer Rouge


Conflict country              Cambodia


Gender                              Male   


Year of birth                     1925[1]


Place of birth                   Kompong Thom province, Cambodia[2]


Year of death                   1998[3]





Yes, he died of natural causes in 1998.


Birth order


He was born as the eighth of nine children to his parents.[4]


Age at start of rebel leadership


In 1976, he officially became the prime minister of the new Khmer Rouge government.[5] Pol Pot was 51 years old when he became leader.


Leader entry method


He seized power by force when he led the Khmer Rouge guerrilla forces in their overthrow of Lon Nol’s regime in 1975.[6]




No, there is no evidence of powersharing.


Education (also name universities attended, if any); note any relevant experiences while a student


In 1949, the Kampuchean government sent him to study radio electricity at the Sorbonne in Paris. However, he failed his exams and never received a qualification. While he was studying in Paris, he became a committed Marxist under the influence of the French Communists, which caused him to neglect his education. Eventually, he also met Yeng Sary and  Khieu Samphan, who are the future of Khmer Rouge leaders.[7] He also studied carpentry before studying radio electronics.[8]


Ever married? If yes, age of first marriage


Yes, on July 14, 1956, he married his first wife, Khieu Ponnary. He was 31 years old when he got married for the first time.[9]




Yes, he had a daughter.[10]


Religious identification


He was an Atheist, but his ideology was heavily influenced by Theravada Buddhist thought.[11]


Elite family background


Pol Pot was born into a wealthy Khmer farm family with royal connections.[12]


Political affiliations and intellectual circles; note any relevant social connections made


In his 20's, he received a government scholarship to study radio technology in France, where he spent three years and became involved in Communist activities at a time when the French party was dominated by Stalinists. It was there that he began his long association with Mr. Son Sen, Ieng Sary and others who became members of his inner circle.[13] In Paris, he became involved with the French Communist Party and joined a group of young left-wing Cambodian nationalists who later became his fellow leaders in the Khmer Rouge.[14] In 1960, he established the congresses of the Communist Party of Kampuchea. With the active support of the Chinese government, he was elected secretary of the Central Committee of the party in 1962.[15]


Physical and mental health


In late 1995, he suffered a stroke.[16] There was an indication that Pol Pot had a narcissistic personality disorder.[17]


Pre-militant leader occupation


He was a teacher. In 1953, when he returned to Cambodia from France, Pol Pot worked as a French language teacher in two private establishments of Phnom Penh.[18]


Experience in a state military, and role; any relevant social ties


No, there is no evidence of experience in a state military.


Experience in a nonstate military, and role; any relevant social ties


Yes, in 1953, Pol Pot joined the Indochina Communist Party, which was engaged in an armed struggle to free the French colonies of Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam (collectively known as French Indochina).[19] 


Combat experience prior to assuming resistance organization leadership?


His combat experience is unknown.


Held government position prior to assuming leadership?


No, there is no evidence he held a government position.


Lived in exile?


Yes, in 1985, he was forced into exile in Thailand, when the Vietnamese initiated an offensive into Khmer Rouge territory. He stayed in Thailand, only moving to the People’s Republic of China in 1986 to receive medical treatment for cancer. He returned to Thailand in 1988, and when the Vietnamese left Cambodia in 1989, he returned to Cambodia where he rallied the Khmer Rouge and disrupted attempts to broker peace for the country and the region.[20]


Study abroad?


Yes, in 1949, he went to Paris on a scholarship to study radio electronics. There he became involved with the French Communist Party and spent more time on revolutionary activities than on his studies. His scholarship was cut short after he failed examinations, and he returned to Phnom Penh in 1953.[21]


Did the leader receive military training abroad?


No, there is no evidence of military training abroad.


Did the leader have extensive work experience abroad?


No, there is no evidence he had extensive work experience abroad.


Serve time in prison? Social connections during that time?


Yes, in 1997, Pol Pot was captured and placed under house arrest by his Khmer Rouge adversary, Ta Mok.[22]


Was there an assassination attempt on the leader by the state?


Whether there was an assassination attempt by the state is unknown.


Cause of Death?


He died of natural causes.[23]


Primary language, and other languages spoken as adult


He spoke Khmer as his primary language because he was an ethnic Khmer, and French as he used to study abroad in Paris and to work as a French teacher in Phnom Penh.


Image Credit:

[1] The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica, “Pol Pot Cambodian Political Leader,” Encyclopedia Britannica, December 1, 2006, accessed January 27, 2017,

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Seth Mydans, “Pol Pot's Siblings Remember the Polite Boy and the Killer,” The New York Times, August, 6, 1997, accessed January 27, 2017,

[5] See f.n.1

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ronald Ringer, Excel HSC Modern History (Glebe: Pascal Press, 2006), 268.

[8] “POL POT,” Alpha History, Accessed February 4, 2019,

[9] Philip Short, Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2005), 453.

[10] Matthew Weltig, Pol Pot's Cambodia (Minneapolis: Twenty-First Century Books, 2012), 130.

[11] Nick Harding, How to Be a Good Atheist (Harpenden: Oldcastle Books, 2008).

[12] See f.n.9, 140.

[13] Seth Mydans, “DEATH OF POL POT; Pol Pot, Brutal Dictator Who Forced Cambodians to Killing Fields, Dies at 73,” The New York Times, April 17, 1998, accessed January 27, 2017,

[14] See f.n.1

[15] See f.n.7

[16] Seth Mydans, “In an Interview, Pol Pot Declares His Conscience Is Clear,” The New York Times, October 23, 1997, accessed January 27, 2017,

[17] Jean Twenge and W. Campbell, The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2010), 196. 

[18] Ibid. 7.

[19] Frank Coppa, Encyclopedia of Modern Dictators: From Napoleon to the Present (New York: Peter Lang, 2006), 247.

[20] Ronald Frankum Jr., Historical Dictionary of the War in Vietnam (Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 2011), 371.

[21] See f.n.1

[22] Robert Skloot, The Theatre of Genocide: Four Plays about Mass Murder in Rwanda, Bosnia, Cambodia, and Armenia (Madison: Univ of Wisconsin Press, 2008), 125.

[23] See f.n.1

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