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 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
"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
"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
"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."