A triple murderer, former KR general Nuon Paet, becomes the star attraction at T3 prison.
PREMIER Hun Sen told France, Australia and Britain a month ago that he would arrest
alleged triple murderer Nuon Paet - but only after the election, diplomatic sources
The message was given to ambassadors Gildas Le Lidec of France, Malcolm Leader of
Australia and George Edgar of Britain when they met Hun Sen in June.
The three country representatives have consistently requested Paet's arrest for the
1994 kidnapping and murder of Briton Mark Slater, Frenchman Jean-Michel Braquet and
Australian David Wilson.
Twice in the past year the Post has carried confirmed stories of Paet's whereabouts:
once in Samlot and again, more recently, in KR defector Ieng Sary's semi-autonomous
stronghold of Pailin.
One diplomatic source told the Post that Hun Sen informed the three ambassadors that
it could cause chaos if Paet was seized before the July 26 polls.
The timing of the arrest so soon after the election was endorsed by the international
community raised the question of a connection between the two events.
An Australian source has vigorously denied that the arrest was part of a "trade-off"
- a conviction in an embarrassing murder case in return for endorsing the often-criticized
elections - saying the timing was coincidental and the arrest resulted from concerted
pressure by the three countries involved.
The source also pointed out that Australia and Britain had been two of the strongest
advocates for a hard-line statement on the election.
Likewise, the French ambassador has reportedly dismissed any connection as "nonsense",
although unlike the Australians the French have long pushed for a positive report
of the elections before counting was even finished.
Nuon Paet, 52, a former KR general, was arrested by police in Phnom Penh Aug 1 after
his car was stopped at a weapons check-point on the road from Pochentong airport.
It was a ruse set up by police to detain Paet.
His arrest was based on a warrant from the Kampot court issued on April 26, 1995,
which accuses him of planning the abduction and then subsequently killing three Western
tourists. It also accused him of their illegal detention at both Noneas village,
Phnom Leav I commune in Kampong Trach district and at Knach Prey village in Phnom
Vour (Vine Mountain) in July, 1994.
Hok Lundy, Chief of the National Police, said Hun Sen warned him that if the case
was not successfully prosecuted then it was likely to adversely affect relations
with the French, English and Australian governments.
Lundy said that the arrest came from persistence and subterfuge. He said it involved
both secret police and criminal police to follow Paet in the border areas.
He said one of the problems was that few police officers knew what he looked like,
but they got a description through business and family contacts.
Meanwhile, the police who actually made the arrest were surprised to find that they
had captured such a notorious figure.
One of the arresting officers said that when the helicopter Paet was travelling in
arrived, a van went out on to the tarmac and picked him up. The van then drove off
and was stopped at a checkpoint.
Police then climbed into the van and handcuffed Paet who they had been told was a
criminal wanted for various charges.
The officer said it was not until later that they realized who they had arrested.
"I didn't know he was Nuon Paet. They told me to arrest a kidnapper, murderer
and weapons smuggler but when we arrived at the police station someone told me that
this was Paet."
Khoun Sophon, Chief of Criminal Police, said they had forwarded the arrest documents
to the court for processing but the documents relating to the charges had not yet
been transferred to Phnom Penh.
Meanwhile, Hun Sen has trumpeted the arrest as a victory for the police. "This
is a success for our national police that they carried out the arrest warrant of
the court," he said at his residence after briefing the three countries' ambassadors
about the capture.
He added that it had been a difficult task, because Paet had moved hiding places
and had changed his name.
However, the extent of Paet's efforts to remain incognito is somewhat debatable,
given his whereabouts and a photograph of him had been published in the Post.
According to Heng Sam An, one of Pailin governor Ee Chhean's staff, Paet has been
living in Pailin at Stung Kach village.
Hun Sen said that he had heard Paet was passing himself off in neighboring countries
as an RCAF soldier. That seemed to particularly irk the premier. "Nuon Paet
is not involved with RCAF. The last we knew he was smuggling cars from Thailand to
Cambodia. He is not in the RCAF as a general, a colonel or even a private."
He said Paet spent time going backwards and forwards between the two countries so
he had been hard to catch. Hun Sen turned to a Khmer proverb to explain how he was
finally detained: "The crane can forget the bird trap but the bird trap never
forgets the crane."
Staying with the folklore motif, the premier compared Paet to a tiger in its lair,
saying if they had tried to attack Paet at home where he was strong, he could defend
But instead, they waited until he left his lair and they set a trap for him.
Hun Sen said he now wanted the victims' countries to each send a lawyer to assist
with the prosecution and so that the victims can be represented during the trial.
Paet's arrest may be a cause for celebration for Hun Sen and the countries that have
been pushing for it for so long, but it may also have implications for other former
KR fighters who had assumed their crimes had been quietly forgotten.
Senior resistance leader Khan Savoeun said Paet's arrest was likely to spread panic
among some of the defectors who may now consider returning to the jungle rather than
wait to see if a similar fate awaits them.
He said that it was possible that Paet's court testimony would implicate KR defectors
who had been welcomed by Hun Sen.
Paet was a relatively minor figure in the Khmer Rouge, and would probably argue that
he was just acting under orders, Savoeun said.
However, the unique aspect of Paet's case is that it involved foreigners.
There is no doubt that there are other more brutal and culpable murderers at large
and within reach but there is no direct international pressure for them to be captured
and tried, just because they killed Khmers.