Saloth Sar (born May 19th 1925) has had many aliases but he is best known as Pol Pot.
Pol Pot was born in Prek Sbauv in Kampong Thom Province in 1925 to a moderately wealthy family of Chinese-Khmer descent. In 1935, he left Prek Sbauv to attend the École Miche, a Catholic school in Phnom Penh. As his sister Roeung was a concubine of the king, he often visited the royal palace. In 1947, he gained admission to the exclusive Lycée Sisowath but was unsuccessful in his studies. His future first wife, Khieu Ponnary, her sister, (née Khieu Thirith) Ieng Thirith and Khieu's future husband, Ieng Sary also attended the Lycée.
After switching to a technical school at Russey Keo, north of Phnom Penh, he qualified for a scholarship that allowed for technical study in France. Thus, he studied radioelectricity at the EFR in Paris from 1949 to 1953. He also participated in an international labour brigade building roads in Yugoslavia in 1950. After the Soviet Union recognized the Viet Minh as the government of Vietnam in 1950, French Communists (PCF) took up the cause of Vietnam's independence. The PCF's anti-colonialism attracted many young Cambodians, including Pol Pot. In 1951, he joined a communist cell in a secret organization known as the Cercle Marxiste which had taken control of the Khmer Student's Association (AER) that same year. Within a few months, Pol Pot also joined the PCF. Historian Philip Short has said that Pol Pot's poor academic record was a considerable advantage within the anti-intellectual PCF, who saw uneducated peasants as the true proletariat and helped him to quickly establish a leadership role for himself among the Cercle Marxiste. Later, he would lead the Communist rebel movement, the Khmer Rouge.
The Khmer Rouge led by Pol Pot captured Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975. A new government was formed and the name of the country was changed to Democratic Kampuchea. The regime's policies caused the death of around one third of the population, 3 million people, either from starvation, overwork, disease or murder. The Khmer Rouge targeted Buddhist monks, Western-educated intellectuals (apart from themselves), educated people in general, people who had contact with Western countries or with Vietnam, people who appeared to be intellectuals (for example, individuals with glasses), the crippled and lame, and ethnic minorities like ethnic Chinese, Laotians and Vietnamese. Some were thrown into the infamous S-21 camp for interrogation involving torture in cases where a confession was useful to the government. Many others were subject to summary execution. Many of the individuals executed, for example in S-21, were accused of working for the CIA, KGB or the Vietnamese. Confessions forced at S-21 were extracted from prisoners through such methods as removing toenails with pliers, suffocating a prisoner repeatedly, and skinning a person while alive. Out of an estimated 17,000 people imprisoned at S-21, there were only twelve known survivors.
In 1976, King Sihanouk ceased to be head of state. In December 1976, Pol Pot issued directives to the senior leadership to the effect that Vietnam was now an enemy. Defenses along the border were strengthened and unreliable deportees were moved deeper into Cambodia. Pol Pot's actions were in response to the Vietnamese Communist Party's fourth Congress which approved a resolution describing Vietnam's special relationship with Laos and Cambodia. It also talked of how Vietnam would forever be associated with the building and defense of the other two countries. Pol Pot led Cambodia into war with Vietnam in 1977. After the Khmer Rouge were driven from power by the Vietnamese in 1979, the United States and other Western powers including Britain refused to allow the Vietnamese-backed Cambodian government to take the seat of Cambodia at the United Nations. The seat, by default, remained in the hands of the Khmer Rouge. These countries considered that however negative allowing the Khmer Rouge to hold on to the seat was, recognizing Vietnam's occupation of Cambodia was worse.