Huddled shoulder to shoulder, some on tiptoes, market vendors, shoppers and taxi drivers crowded around the TV monitor to look at the man blamed for the deaths of as many as 2 million Cambodians.
Boys and girls stood open-mouthed, eyeing the sickly, white-haired man - a boogeyman from horror stories suddenly become real.
Those old enough to remember him cried out in amazement: “That’s him! That’s him!”
The footage of toppled Khmer Rouge chief Pol Pot, obtained by a cameraman with American journalist Nate Thayer, was broadcast Tuesday on TV monitors in Phnom Penh’s central market and at the historic temple Wat Phnom.
ABC, which purchased the film, set up the monitors for its “Nightline” show to watch how ordinary Cambodians reacted to their first sight of the secretive guerrilla Pol Pot in 18 years. The footage showed a humiliated, broken Pol Pot being tried by his former Khmer Rouge comrades Friday and sentenced to house arrest for life.
Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia from 1975-79, killing hundreds of thousands of people by starvation, overwork and systematic execution in a quest to transform the nation into a Marxist agrarian utopia. Invading Vietnamese forces eventually ousted Pol Pot.
Most passers-by ignored the show Tuesday, inured to the 69-year-old guerrilla leader by years of conflicting rumors.
The emotions of those who did stop ranged from surprise to desire for a real trial, rather than the spectacle the Khmer Rouge held to publicly distance themselves from their longtime chief.
“I hate him. I wish they would just kill him,” declared a taxi driver who identified himself only as Savoeun.
Hem Savi, 41, recalled awakening from a Khmer Rouge interrogation session two decades ago to find that her parents and six siblings had been killed and thrown into a pit.
“I feel no pity for Pol Pot watching this,” she said.
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