'Killing Fields' Journalist Dies Dith Pran, the Cambodian-born journalist, whose experiences inspired the movie The Killing Fields, died Sunday at age 65. Pran coined the term "Killing Field" after seeing the remains of victims of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge regime.
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'Killing Fields' Journalist Dies

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'Killing Fields' Journalist Dies

'Killing Fields' Journalist Dies

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Dith Pran, the Cambodian born journalist who escaped the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s, died last night. He was 65. His story, and the efforts of Sydney Schanberg at the New York Times to find him, was chronicled in the 1984 movie, "The Killing Fields."

(Soundbite of movie "The Killing Fields")

Mr. HAING S. NGOR (Actor): (As Dith Pran) Sydney, why didn't you get him out when you had the chance? You had no right to keep him here. Look at you. You have a funny sense of priorities.

Mr. SAM WATERSTON (Actor): (As Sydney Schanberg) (Unintelligible) I know he can't. I love him like my brother and I do anything for him. Anything.

SEABROOK: NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty has this report on Dith Pran, a man who nearly died to tell the story of his people.

BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY: In 1972, the New York Times sent Sydney Schanberg to Cambodia to cover the violence spilling over from the Vietnam War. Dith Pran was waiting for him. Before the war, Dith had made his living as a tourist guide and an interpreter. But Schanberg quickly saw he would be more than an assistant.

Mr. SYDNEY SCHANBERG (New York Times): He was a terrific reporter and his instincts were flawless. His mission became trying to tell the rest of the world what was happening to his people.

HAGERTY: The turning point for Dith came in 1975 when the United States evacuated its embassy in Phnom Penh. Schanberg got Dith's family out of the country but Dith refused to leave. Soon the revolutionary communist group the Khmer Rouge took over the capital. A few days later Schanberg watched as his friend walked into the countryside.

Mr. SCHANBERG: I went around this building as I watched him go out then I put my head against the wall and I was crying.

HAGERTY: For the next four and a half years Dith survived the revolution, which it is estimated killed as many as two million Cambodians. Dith worked in rice fields, sometimes living on a stolen tomato or a mouthful of rice a day. He coined the term "the killing fields" to describe the untold numbers of corpses he saw in his attempt to escape the country.

Finally, in 1979, Dith made his way to a refugee camp in Thailand. He got a message to Schanberg, who immediately returned to Southeast Asia.

Mr. SCHANBERG: When he came toward me, his legs were wobbly. But then he broke into a run because we were so excited. And he just threw his legs around my waist and we just held each other for, I don't know, seemed like a few minutes.

HAGERTY: Dith said he wanted to return to the border to write up stories for the Times, but Schanberg prevailed and the two returned to the United States. Dith became a U.S. citizen and a photographer for the Times. In 1991 he told NPR that his mission was to tell the story of the atrocities in his homeland.

Mr. DITH PRAN: These Khmer Rouge, they kill like Hitler. They bring the whole family. They didn't have a gas chamber like Hitler but they have plastic bags.

HAGERTY: Three months Dith Pran was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Last night Schanberg saw his friend, and from Dith's shallow breathing, he though it might be their last visit together.

Mr. SCHANBERG: I didn't say goodbye to him when I left his bedside last night because I think he's always going to be in my mind. And he has a legacy that I don't think is going to go away.

HAGERTY: Dith levees behind a large family in the United States and countless people who are horrified by the stories he told of the brutality of the Khmer Rouge.

Barbara Bradley Hagerty, NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

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