"Killing Fields" survivor Dith Pran dies of cancer

Sun Mar 30, 2008 1:07pm EDT
 
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By Karen Brettell

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Photojournalist Dith Pran, whose harrowing survival of genocide in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge was dramatized in the film "The Killing Fields," died on Sunday at the age of 65.

He died of pancreatic cancer at a New Brunswick, New Jersey, hospital, The New York Times said on its Web site.

Dith, who used his fame to draw attention to his country's plight, spent the last weeks of his life in the hospital surrounded by family and friends. Among them was Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Sydney Schanberg, who worked with him for The Times during the Cambodian civil war and recalled him as a dogged journalist who was "always doing good deeds for people in the Buddhist tradition."

Best known for his depiction in the 1984 film "The Killing Fields," Dith worked in Cambodia as a translator and journalist assisting Schanberg, who credits Dith with saving his life when they were arrested by the Khmer Rouge.

Forced into a labor camp when the radical Communists seized control of his homeland in 1975, Dith endured four years of starvation and torture. He lost more than 50 relatives to the Khmer Rouge, including his father, three brothers, a sister and their families.

They were among some 1.7 million people who were executed or died of torture, disease or starvation under Pol Pot's 1975-1979 reign of terror as his dream of creating an agrarian peasant utopia turned into the Killing Fields nightmare.

After fleeing to Thailand in 1979, Dith moved to the United States and worked as a photojournalist for The New York Times.

He also dedicated himself to speaking out against the Cambodian genocide and ran the Dith Pran Holocaust Awareness Project to educate U.S. students about Cambodia's dark period. He was appointed a goodwill ambassador for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in 1985.   Continued...

 
<p>Photojournalist Dith Pran, speaks at a meeting of the National Cambodia Crisis Committee at the White House as First Lady Rosalynn Carter (3rd R), wife of President Jimmy Carter, looks on in this January 29, 1980 file photo. Pran, whose harrowing experiences in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge were dramatized in the film "The Killing Fields," died on Sunday at the age of 65. He died of pancreatic cancer at a New Brunswick, New Jersey, hospital, The New York Times said on its Web site. REUTERS/The New York Times/Handout</p>