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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Radio transcripts point finger at Paet

Radio transcripts point finger at Paet

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

Kampot.

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.

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