The Khmer Rouge has admitted it erred in its four-year rule of Cambodia, and has sought to improve its popularity in the country by publicly repudiating some of its harsher policies, removing Pol Pot as prime minister, and reshuffling its Cabinet.
The changes, however, seem largely cosmetic. Today, the leaders of the Khmer Rouge waging a guerrilla war in the countryside are the same as those who ruled the country from 1975 to 1979.
And while many aspects remain cloaked in mystery and deliberate obfuscation, some details of the backgrounds and objectives of the Khmer Rouge leadership have surfaced over the years, revealing it as something of a communist old-boy network knotted with various kinships.
Pol Pot, who rose to predominance within the Khmer Rough in 1976, was born Saloth Sar in the provinical capital of Kompong Thom in May 1928. He is the son of a landowner and is related by marriage to the Cambodian royal family.
Although he claims to come from "poor peasant" stock, Pol Pot actually had middle-class, if not well-to-do, origins. And like three other major figures in the Khmer Rough -- Ieng Sary, Son Sen and Khieu Samphan -- he studied in Paris in the 1950s and returned to Cambodia espousing leftist ideals.
The Khmer yrouge leaders in fact have much in common. Pol Pot and Ieng Sary married sisters, and three members of the current Cabinet are brothers.
According to research by Timothy Carney, a political officer at the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok, Pol Pot studied at the Phnom Penh Technical College, specializing in carpentry, then went to Paris in August 1949 to study radio electronics. He failed his examinations three times at the Ecole Francaise de Radio-Electricite and returned to Phnom Penh in January 1953.
Back in Cambodia, Pol Pot taught at a private school, joined a leftist party called the Pracheachon Group that had links to the Viet Minh and earned a reputation as a left-wing journalist.
Then in 1963, Prince Norodom Sihanouk, the Cambodian head of state, named him among 34 dissidents whom he somewhat derisively challenged to form a government. Interpreting this as a harbinger of repression, Pol Pot and other leftists, including Ieng Sary and Son Sen, took to the bush.
Both Ieng Sary and Son Sen were born in 1930 in South Vietnam, according to Carney's research, although Ieng ysary claimed to have been born in Prey Veng, Cambodia. Both went to high school in Phnom Penh before traveling to Paris in 1950 for further studies.
Each returned to Cambodia in the mid-1950s and taught for a time at the Lycee Sisowath in Phnom Penh before going underground in 1963. Ieng Sary's wife, Khieu Thirith, also studied in France, where she earned a degree in English literature, and became an official in the Khmer Rouge. Her sister, Khieu Ponnary, married Pol Pot and became chairman of the Association of Democratic Women of Kampuchea. Son Sen's wife, Yun Yjt, emerged as the Khmer Rouge minister of culture and education.
But perhaps the best education of the Khmer Rouge leaders and the one who wielded the most influence on its ideology is Khieu Samphan, who was born the son of a minor civil servant in Svay Rieng, Cambodia in 1931.
He received a doctorate in economics from the University of Paris in 1959 and returned to Phnom Penh to publish a procommunist French-language newspaper. Although he quickly acquired a reputation for antimonarchist views, he joined a political party formed by Sihanouk and was elected to parliament in 1962. Khieu Samphan also served briefly as secretary of state for commerce unde the prince before falling into the disfavor that eventually made him flee Phnom Penh in 1967.
Pol Pot became the major force behind the implementation of the Khmer Rouge ideology, whose theoretical basis was set forth in the writings of Khieu Samphan. Khieu Samphan took over as prime minister in 1979 and continued as president of the presidium and Ieng Sary and Son Sen stayed on as deputy prime ministers in charge of foreign affairs and defense respectively.
While no longer in the Cabinet, Pol Pot still cammands the Nations Army of Democratic Kampuchea and heads the Communist Party. Although his name seems to have become something of an embarrassment to the Democratic Kampuchea government and all who recognize it, he continues to be the strongman of the Khmer Rouge.