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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Ten more to follow Paet to court for westerners' deaths

Ten more to follow Paet to court for westerners' deaths

Nuon Paet at his trial

Another ten people will face trial for the murder of three western tourists killed

by the Khmer Rouge in 1994 - the same case for which Nuon Paet was convicted

and sentenced to life imprisonment this week.

Prosecutor Yet Charya said he had enough evidence to charge General Sam Bit, Colonel

Chhouk Rin, both of whom are serving RCAF officers.

He said that the two men would face the same six charges as Nuon Paet.

"The offenders have to be tried.

"The case of Sam Bit and Chhouk Rin I am starting to do in accordance with the

procedure, after receiving the green light from the government," he said.

Charya said that he received the go ahead to proceed with charges against the two

men on June 4 - three days before the start of the Nuon Paet trial.

In addition to the two former KR commanders eight of Nuon Paet's subordinates are

also to face charges.

Charya said that the men known as - Mao, Svay, Phat, Tem An, Chan Sareth, Tuy,

Menn, and Pheap - would be charged once he had confirmed their identities through

their dates of birth and family names.

Diplomats from the countries involved who have put heavy pressure on the government

to make arrests in the case welcomed the news that more people would be charged.

"We have said all along that we expect all those who may be implicated in the

deaths ... should be investigated thoroughly and brought to justice if a case exists,"

said Australian Ambassador Malcolm Leader.

"What's happening now certainly seems to be going down that route; we are happy

about that. We have consistently over the last five years made representations to

Cambodian authorities about this matter, and we'll continue to do that."

Sam Bit, a witness at the Nuon Paet trial, said before testifying: "If the court

finds I'm involved with the case, I don't mind, I will respect the law." He

told the Post Jun 8 that he had not received any notification that he was under investigation.

Prosecutor Charya said Bit and Rin should face the same charges Paet did - accomplice

to murder, kidnapping, robbery, terrorism, and destruction of state property.

When spoken to three days after the trial, Sam Bit was surprised to hear that he

would be charged saying he regarded the matter as over.

"I think that the case is already finished. Why is there another charge?"

he said

Sam Bit

"The killer of the foreigners has already been tried.

"I was not involved with the case. Why do they still lay a charge?

"I think that the Nuon Paet case is enough because the national reconciliation

is the most important."

There is a small chance that Bit might avoid being charged or convicted.

A Foreign ministry source said that Hun Sen was keen to avoid having Sam Bit imprisoned

because he saw him as an ally. In contrast he was very keen to see Chhouk Rin convicted

because he was more independent and could possibly turn against him.

This was borne out at the last election when the Khmer Rouge defectors that he leads

voted for the Sam Rainsy Party instead of the CPP.

Since that time relations between the Kampot based defectors and the Government have

been frosty.

Politics have not been a recent addition to the case of the three foreigners. Since

their deaths five years ago there have been accusations by all sides in the Cambodian

Government as well as in the victims' home countries that their deaths owed as much

to politics as to the Khmer Rouge.

One security analyst said the embassies did not deserve the criticism that they received

for the initial handling of the case.

He said they made one fundamental mistake, which was to approach the then First Prime

Minister Prince Ranariddh for assistance instead of Hun Sen, who wielded the military


He said once it looked like Funcinpec could secure the release of the three men by

negotiations, the CPP military surrounded Phnom Vour and cut off any escape route

for the KR based there.

He said the three were killed only after their captors had been backed into a corner

and were under attack.

Meanwhile at a more basic level, Paet's 12-hour trial may have provided some closure

for grieving families but left many questions unanswered.

Several witnesses testified they "heard" that Paet gave the order to kill

Frenchman Jean-Michel Braquet, Briton Mark Slater, and Australian David Wilson. Bit

claimed he had nothing to do with the deaths, and didn't know who gave the order

to kill them.

Chhouk Rin said: "I never saw Nuon Paet kill these men, but I don't know why

he killed them."

Paet alleged that Bit ordered military chief Vith Vorn to kill the three foreigners.

He also claimed that Bit later had Vorn killed.

"In general it was a good trial, but I think there wasn't enough evidence about

the investigation ... now the court must investigate more about the death of Vith

Vorn," said Cambodian Bar Association president Ang Eng Thong.

Judge Buninh Bunnary, faced with the daunting task of sorting through the conflicting

and often second-hand testimony, asked many questions.

"She seemed to be genuinely searching for some answers, especially the code

name on the radio messages [allegedly between Paet and KR leader Pol Pot],"

said Human Rights Watch representative Sara Colm, who attended the trial.

However, many observers noted that the judge's verdict included a lot of information

that was never presented as evidence, raising worries that the verdict, if not the

proceedings, was scripted ahead of time.

"The problem for me was the disconnect between what went on in eight hours of

testimony and what I understand was in the verdict," Colm said.

She added: "At the end of the day, we still don't really know what happened

in Phnom Vour."

What did happen in Phnom Vour after the July 26, 1994 kidnapping has remained unclear.

The KR began negotiations with the Cambodian government for the lives of the hostages,

and in September the government began shelling the mountain.

The actual date of the hostages' deaths has never been known; various versions of

the story were that they died in the shelling or that they were killed during negotiations.

Chhouk Rin

The murdered Frenchman's father, Jean-Claude Braquet, called the trial "a farce"

and accused the Cambodian and French governments of complicity in covering up the

full story.

He also insisted repeatedly that others, including Chhouk Rin and Sam Bit, should

also be on trial.

The judge seemed sympathetic towards the enraged Braquet, who repeatedly stood or

shouted in anger, including during Rin's testimony. At one point military police

surrounded him and almost dragged him out of the court, but he calmed down.

"Please understand that we empathize with your suffering, but you must speak

to the court through your representative," Bunnary told him.

Braquet finally got an opportunity to speak, and approached the judge shouting, "My

son is dead!"

In a riveting moment, he handed a photograph of the three hostages inside Paet's

hut to Paet. "Look, this is your hut!" he said, countering Paet's claim

he had not kept the hostages in his own hut.

In contrast, the Briton's mother, Dorothy Slater, sat calmly and stoically through

most of the proceedings, declining to speak when given the opportunity by the judge.

Only once did she betray her grief - when the court played a gruesome videotape of

the exhumed bodies of the hostages, showing bullet wounds and signs of torture. Slater

cried quietly for a few moments but quickly regained her composure.

"I'm happy," she said at the end of the trial. "It was worth the trip."

Two survivors of Cambodian victims, Meng Srey and Mem Sophen, also said they were

happy with the verdict. They testified in court that the train attack killed their

husbands, and were awarded 50 million riel each in compensation.

The Wilson family, represented by a lawyer, William Wodrow, asked for $50,000 in

compensation, which was granted. Wodrow said the money would be given to Cambodian


"We've achieved more than we expected ... it's a good result." Earlier

in the trial he had railed about Chhouk Rin's attitude, complaining: "He was

smirking and treating [the trial] lightly, without any seriousness at all."

Wodrow added: "The family will be delighted that Sam Bit and Chhouk Rin will

be tried as well."

Nuon Paet's lawyer, Dy Borima - who gave an impassioned closing statement on behalf

of his client, noting among other things that Paet's pre-trial detention exceeded

the legal limit - said he would appeal.

"The Municipal Court was unjust to my client ... Nuon Paet did not commit murder,"

he said. "I am interested in a two-star general, but the court did not make

an accusation against him." He would not name the general in question.

While the families, embassy officials and lawyers of the victims welcomed the guilty

verdict, many expressed hope that Sam Bit and the others would be tried.



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