Death of 'Killing Fields' star a mystery

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The Independent Online

Los Angeles

The death of the Oscar-winning actor Haing Ngor, who won glory for his role as a victim of Khmer Rouge brutality in the film The Killing Fields, remained a mystery yesterday. Members of his family suggested he was the victim of political revenge. But Los Angeles detectives could provide neither a motive nor a suspect for the killing.

The 55-year-old Cambodian was shot in the chest on Sunday night when he got out of his car in front of his apartment. Yesterday the spot was marked by flowers, incense sticks and bundles of paper money.

Though he shot to stardom for his film portrayal of the `photographer Dith Pran, Mr Ngor continued to live and work in an area of Los Angeles' Chinatown with a growing reputation for violent crime, mainly with groups funnelling aid to refugees.

Police arrived at the scene after an anonymous phone call to find Mr Ngor lying in a pool of blood. Neighbours, who said they heard three shots, suspected he was the victim of a robbery.

Long Beach, California, is the centre of the largest community of Cambodians outside Phnom Penh. They are one of the poorest immigrant groups. Mr Ngor, a doctor, was active in Long Beach but travelled frequently to Cambodia after the defeat of the Khmer Rouge.

He was working as a counsellor in Chinatown when he was given a leading role in The Killing Fields, based on the memoirs of New York Times journalist Sidney Schanberg. Mr Ngor's tale of persecution and escape from the Khmer Rouge echoed the true story of the character he played, and his powerful acting won him an Oscar for best supporting actor in 1984, the first such award to a non-professional in 30 years.

The film showed the horror of the Cambodian purges, where "intellectuals" such as Mr Ngor were routinely tortured and executed. Mr Ngor himself posed as an ignorant taxi driver to survive, but was sent to prison whencaught scavenging for wild roots.

Relatives speculated the publicity may have cost him his life. A nephew, Pic Dom, described the shooting as an assassination. "Political motive," he said. "I think they can organise and they don't give up."

Obituary, page 14