Cambodians began to accept on Friday that Pol Pot was really dead, but many regretted that the man who ruled over the "killing fields" of the 1970s had managed to avoid punishment for his crimes.

Thai military officials on Friday crossed into northern Cambodia to examine Pol Pot's body and confirmed that the former Khmer Rouge guerrilla chief was dead.About 1.7 million Cambodians died of starvation or hard labor, or were executed, during Pol Pot's 1975-79 rule, and his death came just days after the United States announced it was launching an international effort to bring him to justice.

"If Pol Pot was still alive and went to court we would know who exactly was involved in the killing fields and who gave the orders," said motor scooter taxi driver Chea Bunthong.

"His death is a real mystery," added Chea Bunthong, five of whose relatives died during Pol Pot's rule. "Before the United States ordered that he be tried in an international court he was alive, then suddenly he's dead."

Television pictures of Pol Pot's body lying in a simple wooden hut, taken by reporters who crossed into northern Cambodia from Thailand on Thursday, has yet to be shown on Cambodian television.

Many Cambodian newspapers were on a traditional new year break and only one reported his death on Friday.

Bicycle rickshaw driver Neang Eng said he thought the prospect of facing an international court had killed the ailing Pol Pot.

"It was time for him to die, he was old," Neang Eng said. "He killed so many people. I think he was afraid of being sent to an international trial, that's why his heart gave in," he said.

Exactly 23 years after Pol Pot's fighters marched into Phnom Penh and ordered the city's immediate evacuation, Srey Bopha, a 42-year-old housewife, said she just wanted to forget the horrors of Khmer Rouge rule.

"I suffered so much during the Pol Pot regime. Now I don't want to think about it. It's all over," she said.

President Clinton indicated Thursday night that the United States would continue to pursue Khmer Rouge leaders and try them as war criminals.

In a written statement issued in Santiago, Chile, Clinton said: "Although the opportunity to hold Pol Pot accountable for his monstrous crimes appears to have passed, senior Khmer Rouge, who exercised leadership from 1975 to 1979, are still at large and share responsibility for the monstrous human rights abuses committed during this period.

"We must not permit the death of the most notorious of the Khmer Rouge leaders to deter us from the equally important task of bringing these others to justice."