Page last updated at 14:45 GMT, Sunday, 30 March 2008 15:45 UK

'Killing Fields' journalist dies

Dith Pran (14 March 2008)
Dith Pran had been diagnosed with cancer almost three months ago

A Cambodian-born US journalist whose enslavement and escape from the Khmer Rouge became the subject of the famous film, The Killing Fields, has died.

Dith Pran died at a hospital in New Jersey from pancreatic cancer at the age of 65, according to his former New York Times colleague, Sydney Schanberg.

They were in Cambodia in 1975 to report the fall of Phnom Penh to Khmer forces.

Mr Dith was not allowed to leave, and had to endure four years of torture and starvation before escaping to Thailand.

In 1980, Mr Schanberg described his colleague's ordeal in a magazine article, and later a book, called "The Death and Life of Dith Pran". It became the basis for the Oscar-winning Hollywood film, The Killing Fields.

"Pran was a true reporter, a fighter for the truth and for his people," Mr Schanberg told the Associated Press.

A Cambodian woman touches a shelf containing thousands of skulls at the memorial located at the Choeung Ek killing fields (archive)
More than a million people died under the Khmer Rouge

"When cancer struck, he fought for his life again. And he did it with the same Buddhist calm and courage and positive spirit that made my brother so special."

Mr Dith himself coined the term "killing fields" to describe the horrifying scene he witnessed on his journey to freedom in Thailand.

The Khmer Rouge was the ruling party in Cambodia from 1975 to 1979, during which it was responsible for one of the worst mass killings of the 20th Century. The regime claimed the lives of more than a million people - some estimates say up to 2.5 million perished.

Under the Marxist leader Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge tried to take Cambodia back to the Middle Ages, forcing millions of people from the cities to work on communal farms in the countryside.

But this dramatic attempt at social engineering had a terrible cost, and whole families died from execution, starvation, disease and overwork.

Key figures in the Khmer Rouge
19 Nov 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Cambodia's brutal Khmer Rouge regime
19 Sep 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Surviving the Khmer Rouge
24 Jan 03 |  Asia-Pacific
Masters of the killing fields
02 Jan 01 |  Asia-Pacific
Pol Pot: Life of a tyrant
14 Apr 00 |  Asia-Pacific
Pol Pot 'dead'
16 Apr 98 |  Asia-Pacific

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