Mon, Nov 17, 2008 - Page 5 News List

Swede apologizes for Khmer ties

AP , PHNOM PENH

Gunnar Bergstrom, a former Swedish communist, visits an abandoned market in Kampong Cham Province in eastern Cambodia during a trip at the invitation of the Khmer Rouge regime in 1978 rule.

PHOTO: AP

When Gunnar Bergstrom was a guest of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge regime in August 1978, the young Swede enjoyed a dinner of oysters and fish hosted by Cambodian dictator Pol Pot.

The meal followed a rare interview he and three of his countrymen were given by the secretive communist leader who labeled talk about genocide under his rule a Western lie.

The young European leftists, members of an unofficial friendship delegation, shared Pol Pot’s view, seeing the Khmer Rouge takeover as a revolution to transform Cambodia into a fairer society benefiting the poor.

Bergstrom has since realized he was mistaken about Pol Pot’s brutal regime, and he wants to make amends.

“We had been fooled by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. We had supported criminals,” he told reporters by phone from his Stockholm home.

The 57-year-old Swede arrived in Cambodia yesterday, for the first time in 30 years to donate his archives from the trip and publish a photo book recounting the journey.

Bergstrom has deep regrets about his August 1978 trip to Democratic Kampuchea, as Cambodia was then called. He was one of only a handful of Westerners whom the xenophobic Khmer Rouge allowed to visit during its 1975 to 1979 hold on power.

While presenting an earnest and progressive face to foreign visitors, the Khmer Rouge were inflicting a reign of terror that left an estimated 1.7 million dead from starvation, overwork, disease and execution.

“For those still appalled by my support of the Khmer Rouge at the time, and especially those who suffered personally under that regime, I can only say I am sorry and ask for your forgiveness,” Bergstrom says in his book, Living Hell.

Bergstrom was the president of the Sweden-Kampuchea Friendship Association in 1978, a small political group that identified with the communism of Mao Zedong’s (毛澤東) China and was motivated by the movement against the US war in Vietnam.

The Khmer Rouge had its origins in the struggle against French colonialism in Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos, while its ideology was shaped in part by the French university education of several of its leaders, including Pol Pot. It came to power by toppling a pro-US Cambodian government in 1975 after a bitter five-year civil war.

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