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Award-Winning Journalist Praises Congressional Resolution Honoring Dith Pran

  • Reasey Poch

The U.S. Congress recently passed a resolution to honor the late Cambodian photographer Dith Pran, the Khmer Rouge survivor whose life story was made into an award-winning movie 'The Killing Fields'. VOA's Reasey Poch reports the U.S. Senate resolution calls the photo-journalist who died at the end of March, a 'modern-day hero'.

Sydney Schanberg, the long-time friend and colleague of the late New York Times photographer Dith Pran, says he is pleased to hear Congress recognize his friend's works and legacy, but wishes there was more than just a resolution in his honor.

Speaking to VOA by phone from his home in New York, Schanberg said he would like to see action. "Pran would be more impressed if governments, legislators, and presidents and so forth, did more than pass resolutions, by doing something to prevent genocide from happening," he said.

The U.S. Senate passed a resolution, introduced by Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse on April 29, to honor the human-rights advocate whose heroism during the genocide perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge regime was documented in the Academy Award-winning 1984 film 'The Killing Fields'.

The House of Representatives also passed a similar resolution this week (May 6th) that says it 'honors the life and legacy of Mr. Dith for his commitment to raising awareness about the atrocities that took place under the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia'.

Dith Pran worked as an interpreter for Sydney Schanberg who covered the war in Cambodia for the New York Times when the Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia on April 17, 1975. Pran was credited with saving Schanberg's life by negotiating with the Khmer Rouge to let Schanberg and the other foreign journalists leave.

Mr. Dith stayed behind in Cambodia. In 1979 when Vietnamese soldiers invaded Cambodia and toppled the Khmer Rouge regime, he escaped to Thailand. In 1980 he migrated to the United States to reunite with his wife and children who left Cambodia just before the Khmer Rouge takeover.

Their ordeal was made into the movie.

Mr. Dith dedicated his life to educate people about the genocide in Cambodia by giving lectures at colleges around the United States, while continuing to work for the New York Times as a photojournalist until earlier this year when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He died of the disease March 30th in New Jersey.

Senator Whitehouse's communication director and spokeswoman, Alex Swartsel, this week explained to VOA why Pran was chosen. "Senator Whitehouse felt that Dith Pran is an extraordinary person, someone who has worked tirelessly throughout his life to educate the people of the world and the people of America about what had happened to his people in Cambodia. Someone who had endured extraordinary personal trial and great difficulty, and was worthy of this recognition," he said.

Schanberg said Dith Pran did not just talk about the genocide that took place in Cambodia, but against genocide around the world. "His message was that we always say that 'never again'. It should never happen again and of course it keeps happening again, so Pran's goal was to made 'never again' a realty, not just a phrase," he said.

Dith Pran's widow, Se Moeun Dith, told VOA in a phone interview this week that she was very happy about the resolutions.

She says she is very touched that the U.S. Congress has chose her husband, who tried to bring the message to the world and the United States about the tragedies in Cambodia during that period of time.

An estimated 1.7 million people died of starvation, sickness, and extrajudicial killings in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge from April 1975 to January 1979.

The five surviving top Khmer Rouge leaders are in their 70s and in custody of a U.N.-assisted tribunal awaiting trial. They are charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes.

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