FORMER Khmer Rouge General Nuon Paet has yet to go to trial for the murders of three
foreign hostages, but alleged transcripts of radio transmissions captured from Paet's
hideout in 1994 clearly show that he claimed to have received orders from Pol Pot
to kill the captives.
The transcripts - copies of which have been obtained by the Post - reveal that Nuon
Paet sought and received instructions from Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot on how to handle
the ransom negotiations and how to treat the hostages.
The transcripts also include references to Pol Pot's order to kill the three men
- Australian David Wilson, Briton Mark Slater and Frenchman Jean-Michel Braquet -
sometime in late September, 1994.
The radio reports were scribbled on sheets torn out of standard Cambodian exercise
books. They were taken from Paet's Phnom Vour (Vine Mountain) base by Colonel Chhouk
Rin - the man who planned the kidnapping - before Rin led 200 Khmer Rouge soldiers
to defect on Oct 15, 1994. By then, the hostages were already dead.
The documents were handed over to General Nhek Bun Chhay, who was then the first
deputy chief of staff of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF). After his defection,
Rin was given an amnesty and in January 1995, was appointed to the rank of Colonel
in the RCAF. He also holds the position of village chief in his native province of
The hostage crisis, which lasted more than two months, began on July 26, 1994, when
a train traveling from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville was ambushed in a gorge about
12km north of the town of Kampot.
The ambush itself was not unusual - six trains had been held up at roughly the same
location during the previous 18 months. This time, 12 Khmer passengers were killed
and others were taken hostage, but most significantly for the Khmer Rouge, for the
first time they had netted three Western tourists.
The three, who were on a backpacking holiday in Cambodia, were picked up by a Khmer
Rouge ambush team led by Rin, who was following orders from deputy commander of Division
405, General Nuon Paet. They were taken to Paet's base on Phnom Vour.
What at first appeared to be a situation that could be resolved by handing over a
ransom of about $50,000 for each of the hostages, was soon complicated by Pol Pot's
determination to hold onto the three foreigners in order to use them as a bargaining
chip to force the Australian and French governments to stop all military aid and
training programs with the Cambodian government.
A captured radio communication dated Aug 23, 1994, from #99 (Pol Pot) reads: "You
must understand it is very important to use these guys to scare foreign governments.
This is the way...by using the three to exert pressure on the enemy [foreign governments]
to scare them more and more."
At this stage of the hostage drama, the leadership was intent on keeping them alive.
According to the Aug 23 transmission, #99 directed Paet - known as #75 - to "keep
the three long-noses quiet and in good condition."
Several attempts were made to strike a ransom deal with Paet. Pol Pot was clearly
aware of this and specifically admonished #75 in an Aug 25, 1994, communication to
"be aware of this cause, do not think about the money".
General Paet's train-robbing activities, and the use of ransom to finance this Khmer
Rouge zone, was clearly known to the leadership. In fact, Paet had been praised in
one KR propaganda magazine for his flair in maintaining the only significant "liberated
zone" along the Thai-Cambodian border. Phnom Vuor defectors claimed that Paet
had just been promoted in 1994, as deputy commander of Division 405, ranking under
the veteran Khmer Rouge commander General Sam Bith, whose codename was #37.
The Pol Pot gambit with the hostages never had any chance of success. Australia and
France both rejected out of hand any idea of capitulating to the terrorist pressure
to change their foreign policy and military aid to Phnom Penh.
From mid-August, an RCAF military offensive attempted to lay siege to Phnom Vuor.
One month after Pol Pot's directive to "keep the hostages alive", came
another message with a more familiar ring.
According to the transcripts, Paet reported to his superior officer Sam Bith - located
at the rebels' regional headquarters in Koh Slah, 28km away - the main points of
Pol Pot's instructions.
The translation of Paet's transmission to Bith on Sept 25, 1994, reads: "According
to the instructions of #99, the recommendations are that these three have no further
use. Suggestion to #37 [Sam Bith] is that they must be destroyed... After the execution
keep it strictly secret."
Some time between Sept 28 and the end of the month, the three Western hostages were
executed. Their graves were found on Oct 30, six days after Phnom Vour was captured
by RCAF troops.
Later, Sam Bith also defected to the government and now holds the rank of military
adviser to the Ministry of Defense.
Prime minister-elect Hun Sen has indicated that he would like to see the trial of
Nuon Paet take place in Phnom Penh as soon as possible. The prosecution may call
on Colonel Rin to give evidence against his former boss.
Rin, who planned the train ambush and is therefore strongly implicated in the kidnapping,
has already been cleared of any involvement in the murders. At the time of his defection,
Western observers were outraged at his amnesty and acceptance into the RCAF.
However, the status of Sam Bith - #37 - is not so clear, although it is known that
he was Paet's immediate superior and clearly a party to the plan to execute the hostages.
British Ambassador George Edgar declined to comment specifically on Bith's involvement.
"We want all those responsible to be brought to justice. Nobody says it is just
limited to Paet. But Paet is the one who is the focus of attention. That is because
an arrest warrant was issued in April 1995 for Nuon Paet."
A spokesman for the Australian Embassy also declined to comment on the case, but
he acknowledged that observers are questioning the involvement of other KR officials
and whether some defectors ought to be prosecuted.