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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - A six-year battle for justice

A six-year battle for justice

FOR six years, Jean-Claude Braquet has fought for the truth to come out. The truth

about what happened in 1994 when his son, Jean-Michel Braquet, 27, was kidnapped

off a train in Kampot, held hostage in a Khmer Rouge camp on Phnom Vour and finally

murdered and buried in a shallow grave.

Frenchman Braquet has relentlessly investigated, interrogated, searched and analyzed

every conceivable angle of the hostage crisis that also cost the lives of his son's

fellow travelers Briton Mark Slater, 28, and Australian David Wilson, 29.

Single-handedly, Braquet has amassed piles of documents, taken testimonies and dug

up eye-witnesses that no one else thought to look for. His own private hunt for evidence

has produced photos, letters and transcripts that Braquet continues to piece together.

But it has been an uphill struggle all the way. Government officials, foreign diplomats

and KR rebels have been luke warm to Braquet's struggle to find the truth.

And that angers Braquet a lot more than the July 18 court acquittal of former KR

commander Chhouk Rin, who once admitted responsibility for of the ambush that took

the three backpackers off the Sihanoukville-bound train

Braquet is convinced that self-interest is hiding the truth.

"This affair bothers everybody. Everybody wants to close the case as quickly

and quietly as possible. All in order to protect their good relationship with each

other. They are all afraid of the truth," he says.

Because to him, the death of his son was not just an ordinary matter of kidnapping

and murder. It was part of a much bigger political case, intended to shift power

balances and gain international aid. And Braquet says he has the evidence to prove

it.

"It was Cambodian government policy at the time to obtain defections from the

KR. Everybody knew that some of Prince Ranariddh's men had infiltrated Kampot, and

all the regions down there voted Funcinpec at the election in 1993," he said.

"But on Phnom Vour, there was one man who would not surrender: Nuon Paet. Chhouk

Rin, who had secretly shifted allegiance to the government, attacked the train to

damage Paet. The two of them were not on friendly terms, so why did Rin bring the

hostages to Paet? - In order to help the government.

"Their only goal was to take Phnom Vour. That way they could raise international

opinion that they were combatting the KR and obtain international aid".

There is also proof, Braquet says, that Rin had shifted allegiance from the KR to

the government long before the hostage crisis. This means that he is not covered

by the six months amnesty provision in the 1994 law, that was the legal grounds for

his acquittal at the trial.

"One of Ranariddh's men went and convinced Rin to defect in 1993. Ranariddh

knows who this man is. There is evidence of this. Rin was commissioned to obtain

defections from other KR. He secured the defections of his own men and also some

of Paet's," he said.

"And in Sep 1994 during the hostage crisis, Rin wrote a letter to Ranariddh,

saying he was in a combat zone six km from Phnom Vour. He was not in a hospital as

he claimed in court. I brought the letter forward in court, and Rin recognized it

and admitted it was his.

"But why is it me who has to bring this letter forward? The embassies - France,

Britain, Australia - knew about this letter. They have it, and they read it two or

three years before I discovered it".

"For us, the families of the victims, the embassies are our adversaries in this

case, not our partners. They hide evidence in order to protect the good relationship

with the Cambodian government.

"All I've heard from the French for six years is 'that will not bring your son

back, Mr Braquet'. That's all they know how to say. If I can, I will file a complaint

against them".

"In lack of official support, Braquet has been forced to carry out his investigation

largely on his own. He has met with King Sihanouk and ventured to both Kampot and

Phnom Vour. For six years he has carried around in his pocket a photo of a lanky,

pale-faced man standing in the hut where the three hostages were kept.

"This man was always with the hostages, and there are questions to ask him.

But why was he not at Rin's trial? Because nobody has ever looked for him. I found

out his name yesterday, but I won't reveal it to you. I'm afraid he will get himself

killed, and I don't want that to happen, because one day he may be a witness".

Braquet also managed to put more pressure on the Cambodian government than any diplomats

in connection with Rin's arrest.

"Before Prime Minister Hun Sen visited Paris last year, I sent 600 letters to

each of the French parliamentarians and senators explaining the case. That made a

lot of noise in Paris, and President Chirac and Prime Minister Jospin had to bring

the subject up with Hun Sen. So he made a gesture and said he would put Rin at the

disposition of the courts. It was thanks to my letters, not to any government, that

Rin was arrested".

Again and again, Braquet points out the facts and the knowledge from 1994 that everybody

conveniently seems to overlook today. And he refers to a number of inconsistencies

in both Rin's case and the court that last year sentenced Paet to life imprisonment.

Braquet is certain that Rin and former KR general Sam Bit bear a much bigger responsibility

for his son's death than Paet ever did.

"Back in 1994 everybody told me that the hostages would be more secure if they

were with Paet. He had had other hostages, but they were all freed and nobody was

killed".

"Then suddenly last year, it's only Paet who is responsible. He's responsible

for everything. It was like: Put Paet in prison and we can all close the case. But

for me, Paet is not the assassin. Paet was responsible for other things, but it wasn't

him who gave the order to kill the hostages".

So while Rin returns to Kampot, Braquet vows to continue his fight to reveal the

truth.

"For six years now I have fought. I have lost everything in this affair and

I am sick and tired of it. But I will continue. I will appeal. I don't agree with

the process. And this doesn't only concern Chhouk Rin."

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