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Dith Pran
Dith Pran.jpg
Dith speaking in Athens, Ohio in May 2007
Born (1942-09-23)23 September 1942
Siem Reap, French protectorate of Cambodia, French Indochina
Died 30 March 2008(2008-03-30) (aged 65)
Occupation Photojournalist & translator
Employer The New York Times
Known for The Killing Fields

Dith Pran (Khmer: ឌិត ប្រន; 23 September 1942 – 30 March 2008) was a Cambodian photojournalist. He was a refugee and survivor of the Cambodian genocide and the subject of the film The Killing Fields (1984).

Early life

Dith was born in Siem Reap, Cambodia near Angkor Wat. His father worked as a public works official. He learned French at school and taught himself English.

The United States Army hired him as a translator but after his ties with the United States were severed, Dith worked with a British film crew for the film Lord Jim and then as a hotel receptionist.

Cambodian genocide

In 1975, Dith and The New York Times reporter Sydney Schanberg stayed behind in Cambodia to cover the fall of the capital Phnom Penh to the Communist Khmer Rouge. Schanberg and other foreign reporters were allowed to leave the country, but Pran was not. Due to the persecution of intellectuals during the genocide, he hid the fact that he was educated or that he knew Americans, and pretended that he had been a taxi driver. When Cambodians were forced to work in labour camps, Dith had to endure four years of starvation and torture before Vietnam overthrew the Khmer Rouge on 7 January 1979. He coined the phrase "killing fields" to refer to the clusters of corpses and skeletal remains of victims he encountered during his 40-mile (60 km) escape. His three brothers and one sister were killed in Cambodia.

Dith travelled back to Siem Reap where he learned that 50 members of his family had died. The Vietnamese had made him village chief but he feared they would discover his U.S. ties and he escaped to Thailand on 3 October 1979.

Career in the United States

After Schanberg learned that Dith had made it to Thailand, Schanberg flew halfway around the world, and they had a joyful reunion there. Schanberg brought Dith back to the United States to reunite him with his family, and in 1980 Dith joined his paper, The New York Times, where he worked as a photojournalist. He gained worldwide recognition after the 1984 release of the film The Killing Fields about his experiences under the Khmer Rouge. He was portrayed in the film by first-time actor Haing S. Ngor (1940–1996), who won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance. He campaigned for recognition of the Cambodian genocide victims, especially as founder and president of the Dith Pran Holocaust Awareness Project. He was a recipient of an Ellis Island Medal of Honor in 1998 and the Award of Excellence of the International Center.

Personal life

In 1986, he became a U.S. citizen with his then wife Ser Moeun Dith, whom he later divorced. He then married Kim DePaul but they also divorced.


On 30 March 2008, Dith died, aged 65, in New Brunswick, New Jersey, having been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer three months earlier. He was living in Woodbridge, New Jersey.


  • Pran, Dith; DePaul, Kim (1997). Children of Cambodia's Killing Fields. Yale University Press. ISBN 0300078730.

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Dith Pran para niños

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