stung sen district, Kompong Thom province – Prey Sbauv village looks and functions like a typical Cambodian rice village. But when Prey Sbauv residents travel around Cambodia, and they tell people where they are from, eyebrows raise in recognition.
“They always say, ‘Oh, that is Pol Pot’s village,’” says CPP commune council candidate Seng Vanky. “But they are never unfriendly to us.”
The village was very lucky one day in 1983, when Khmer Rouge soldiers crept in searching for food and supplies. They called Prey Sbauv “Grandfather’s Village,” showing their reverence by leaving homes undamaged and people unharmed.
“If it was anywhere else, they would have burned every home,” says Seng Vanky.
Saloth Sar was born here, the eighth of nine children. The home where he spent the first part of his childhood burned down several years ago, although relatives have built several other homes on the same plot of land that overlooks the Stung Sen River.
Saloth Sar left Prey Sbauv when he was six. He lived and studied in Phnom Penh, Kompong Cham and Paris before disappearing into the jungles of the northeast to lead a guerrilla war under the name of Pol Pot. The last time Prey Sbauv family members saw him was around 1960, when he was still a young man.
About 20 relatives, including his 75-year-old brother Loth Nhep, live in this village. Pol Pot’s sister, his only other living sibling, makes her home in Kompong Thom town. Other relatives live in Anlong Veng and Phnom Penh.
Loth Nhep’s smooth face, calm demeanor, close-cropped hair and smile are eerily reminiscent of every photograph and written description of Pol Pot.
While villagers, and even Loth Nhep’s own grandchildren, use the derogatory term “a-Pot” when referring to Pol Pot, Loth Nhep prefers to call him “my brother.” But he doesn’t hesitate to offer criticism.
“I think he made mistakes. He moved the people from their villages and forced them to work until they died,” says Loth Nhep. “I don’t know about the killings because I did not see any with my eyes. I only saw the bones. But I am also disappointed in him, like other Cambodians.”
Loth Nhep and other Pol Pot family members were moved in 1975 to Sala Visai, about 30 km away, to work in the fields. They received no special treatment. In fact, Loth Nhep didn’t realize his brother was leading the country until 1978, when he saw a photograph hanging in the worker’s cooperative kitchen.
“I was very surprised. They didn’t write his name. They just wrote ‘Pol Pot,’” he says. “But I remembered his face. He was my brother.”
Loth Nhep believes trials of former Khmer Rouge leaders should take place to find out “what people did wrong.” When asked how much of the blame Pol Pot and other top leaders deserve, Loth Nhep says, “I don’t know who should be tried. I was not involved. He was there and I was here.”
A foreign journalist or a television crew will occasionally come by to ask questions, although not as many as in 1998, after Pol Pot died.
These days, Loth Nhep stays on his bed in his wooden home. He listens to the radio, surrounded by photos of children and grandchildren and a picture of himself in front of the Royal Palace.
Due to an injured back, Loth Nhep regrets that he cannot go to the pagoda every day, where he has prayed for the soul of his brother.
“Villagers never ask me about him. They treat me well,” he says. “They are friendly.”