In a clearing of the thick teak jungles of northern Cambodia, Pol Pot looked sadly across a wooden table and expressed the wish that his life's work be undone.

"When I die, my only wish is that Cambodia remain Cambodia and belong to the West," said the tyrant who presided over one of the most murderous regimes of modern times. "It is over for communism, and I want to stress that. . . . When I say Cambodia {should} be part of the West, I mean that if you belong to the West, at least there is no fascist regime."

This might seem a strange statement, coming from a man who seized power in 1975 by defeating a U.S.-backed government and who tried to transform Cambodia into a communist agrarian utopia. But it fits with the current position of Pol Pot's captors, who allowed him to be interviewed Oct. 16 as part of an effort to reach out to the West in general, and the United States in particular. Accounts of the interview by this correspondent first appeared last week in the Far Eastern Economic Review and the Wall Street Journal.

As unrealistic as this effort might appear to outsiders, the Khmer Rouge remnants led by Ta Mok, 71, a feared guerrilla commander who lost a leg to a land mine, clearly hope that their purge of Pol Pot will encourage support for their struggle against the Phnom Penh government of Hun Sen. First installed as prime minister by Vietnamese occupation forces in the 1980s, Hun Sen forced his way into a coalition government after losing U.N.-sponsored elections in 1993, then overthrew his royalist partner in July.

"When the Cambodian people hear our new slogans, they will surely send money to help our struggle," Ta Mok declared in a separate interview, pointing to freshly painted revolutionary slogans on the walls of a meeting hall. Among the slogans were "Defeat to the race-exterminating Vietnamese enemy," "Down with Pol Pot and his genocidal clique" and "Cambodians do not kill Cambodians."

While Ta Mok expressed open revulsion for his former mentor, blaming him for the deaths of "hundreds of thousands" of Cambodians during the 1975-79 Khmer Rouge rule and the suffering of millions more, Pol Pot seemed oddly complacent about the former followers who turned against him and sentenced him to "life imprisonment" at a show trial here in July.

The revolt against Pol Pot had little to do with the "genocide" that he is accused of waging against his own people during his rule, but was triggered by the massacre of the former Khmer Rouge defense minister and his family during a Pol Pot-ordered purge in June that also had targeted Ta Mok.

Although he acknowledged that he is finished, "both politically and as a human being," Pol Pot made it clear he takes comfort from the fact that his disciples are carrying on the driving passion that guided his leadership of the Khmer Rouge for more than 30 years: a deep-seated hatred of the Vietnamese.

"We had no reason to kill our own people," Pol Pot said in dismissing the charges of genocide. "But of course things happened that made people suffer." He insisted that his leadership had saved the country from an expansionist Vietnam. "Without our struggle, Cambodia would have been swallowed by the Vietnamese in 1975," he declared.

He said his distrust of Vietnam dates back to at least 1970, when he met Vietnamese leaders who, he said, "tried to flatter me . . . but they wanted to assassinate me in order to swallow Cambodia. They asked us to not fight and to wait until they liberated Saigon and then they would come liberate us. I knew then that they wanted to be our masters."

It is Pol Pot's obsession with Vietnam, a theme he returned to repeatedly, that allows him to justify to himself all the excesses of his rule. "Everything I have done and contributed is first for the nation and people and race of Cambodia," he said. "Our movement made mistakes like every other movement in the world. We were young. But without our struggle, there would be no Cambodia today."

He even claimed that the infamous Tuol Sleng school-turned-prison, where at least 16,000 Cambodians were tortured into signing "confessions" before they were executed, was a fabrication of the Vietnamese. Pol Pot claimed that he first heard of Tuol Sleng from a Voice of America broadcast at a jungle hideout after being driven from power.

"People talk about Tuol Sleng, Tuol Sleng, Tuol Sleng, but when we look at the pictures, they are all the same," he said. Referring to the displays of skulls at the site, now a museum documenting Khmer Rouge brutality, Pol Pot asserted, "When you look closely . . . they are smaller than the skulls of the Cambodian people."

During the two-hour interview, his first in 18 years, Pol Pot often became annoyed when challenged or interrupted. But he maintained a gentle demeanor, never raised his voice and often looked pained when defending himself against the charges of genocide against his nation. He became animated and seemed eager to talk only when the subject turned to such matters as his health and his family life, and he sought to elicit sympathy for his own tribulations.

"You look at me from the outside and you don't know what I have suffered," he said. "If you allow me, I would like to tell you about my sickness."

He went on to describe a catalogue of health problems that had been publicly unknown, including serious heart disease, chronic respiratory difficulties that require an oxygen tank by his bed, and a stroke in late 1995 that has left him blind in one eye and partially paralyzed on his left side. "Two or three times I almost died," he said.

He complained about scholars who wrote that he was not particularly bright, saying, "That is not entirely accurate. . . . I was not a bad student. I was average." During his student days in France, where he studied radio-electricity from 1949 to 1953 and joined the French Communist Party, "I studied just enough to keep my scholarship," he said. "The rest of the time I just read books."

Pol Pot said he was born in January 1925, making him 72, and said he had lied about his age to qualify for the scholarship in France. He previously was thought to be 69.

Among his early influences, he said with no apparent irony, was Mohandas K. Gandhi. He said he was never "from the traditional school of communism" and that he was influenced "a little from here, a little from there."

Now living his dying days in the forbidding jungles of northern Cambodia, he comforts himself with his radio and his 12-year-old daughter, born of his marriage in the 1980s to a Khmer Rouge porter much younger than he.

"I listen to the radio every morning," he said. "The Voice of America. But they don't have much news in the morning. The evening news is better." CAPTION: "When I die, my only wish is that Cambodia remain Cambodia and belong to the West. . . . It is over for communism," said Pol Pot, living in a northern jungle. CAPTION: A frail-looking Pol Pot, 72, is helped away after being interviewed. "You look at me from the outside and you don't know what I have suffered," he declared before cataloguing his history of health problems. "Two or three times I almost died."