Brigadier-General Khem Ngun, left, shortly after he negotiated with the government in Preah Vihear the surrender of the remaining Khmer Rouge forces in northern Cambodia, meets the press at the Ministry of Information in December, 1998.
Three former Khmer Rouge cadre have been arrested in conjunction with the 1996 murders
of British deminer Christopher Howes and his Cambodian interpreter Houn Hoerth, a
police official confirmed on November 14.
One of those arrested is RCAF Brigadier-General Khem Ngun, who prior to his defection
from the Khmer Rouge in 1998 was the KR military's chief of staff and Ta Mok's designated
The two others are: Loch Mao, recently a CPP-affiliated district official in Anlong
Veng who is believed to have been the individual who actually shot Howes and Hoerth;
and Cheath Cheth who is believed to be the driver of the car that transported the
abductees to Anlong Veng.
Ngun was arrested on Nov. 11 in Phnom Penh while the other two suspects were detained
on Nov. 12. All three are being held in Prey Sar prison, according to Gen. Sao Sokha,
chief of the Military Police.
Their case will be prosecuted at the Phnom Penh Municipal court, according to Ke
Sakhon, Deputy Chief of the Municipal court. According to Sakhon, Ngun and Mao face
murder and kidnapping charges, while Cheth is being charged with murder.
Howes and Hoerth were kidnapped by the Khmer Rouge on March 26, 1996 in a rural area
north of Siem Reap town. Howes was leading a 26-man Mines Advisory Group (MAG) demining
team at the time.
The Khmer Rouge told Howes that he could leave his team and bring back an unknown
ransom in exchange for ten Cambodian deminers the kidnappers would have kept. This
was dependent on local police and militia not becoming involved.
Howes declined the offer and said he would stay with his team. By the end of his
first day of captivity the rest of the deminers had been freed and only Howes and
Hoerth remained in custody.
At the time, Archie McCarron, MAG country director told the Post, "Chris could
not obviously ensure the continued welfare of his team had he left. He made a decision
for the welfare of his team that he should stay."
The two hostages were subsequently driven to Anlong Veng and shortly thereafter executed
by the Khmer Rouge, in spite of persistent reports that continued until November,
1996 and beyond that they were still alive.
In an effort to resolve the fate of the two missing individuals, Britain's Scotland
Yard stationed officers in Siem Reap for the next several years who were tasked with
following up all leads on the deminers. It wasn't until the final demise of the KR
in 1998 that sources confirmed the basic details of the executions of Howes and Hoerth.
Inspired by Howes' act of bravery in defending his Cambodian colleagues, King Norodom
Sihanouk decided to re-name the street in front of Hotel Le Royal "Christopher
The British embassy declined to comment on the details of the case saying it was
their policy not to discuss with the press Consular issues involving British citizens.
Gen. Ngun, originally from Takeo province, joined the Khmer Rouge in the 1960s and
was a Ta Mok loyalist from the days when Mok ran the Southwest Zone with an iron
fist. Shortly after the Khmer Rouge captured Phnom Penh in April 1975, Ngun was attached
to a navy unit that was involved in the Mayaguez incident although he was not on
Koh Tang when American forces invaded the island in an attempt to rescue the Mayaguez'
Several months later Ngun was sent to Shanghai, China for extensive naval operations
training. In an interview with the Post in 1998 Ngun said did not return to Cambodia
until after 1979 when he joined Mok's forces in northern Cambodia after the KR had
been ousted from power by the invading Vietnamese.
During 1997 and 1998, Ngun was a key player in the internal drama within the KR leadership
over the control of the movement. After Pol Pot had KR Defence Minister Son Sen and
his wife Communications Minister Yun Yat executed on June 9, 1997 over allegations,
among others, that they were involved in secret negotiations with the government
in Phnom Penh, Ta Mok, with Ngun as his chief lieutenant, arrested Pol Pot along
with senior cadre Saroeun, San and Khan. What followed was the now-famous show trial
held in Anlong Veng on July 25, 1997 witnessed by Post reporter Nate Thayer and cameraman
All four were convicted of betraying the movement. Pol Pot was put in jail; the other
three cadres were executed.
In an interview with Thayer at the time of the trial, Ngun said: "If they still
call me the Khmer Rouge, they haven't seen what I have just done. I am the one who
has destroyed Pol Pot, who has been in power for many years. Even the United States
and the Vietnamese failed to get rid of him, but I can, so how can you call me the
Khmer Rouge?" Ngun added: "Our movement is pure and clean. I hope that
the international community will help us. For starters, please ask them to stop calling
us 'Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge'."
Ngun speaks Chinese, Thai and moderate English. One of his most recent responsibilities
with RCAF was to participate in the military commission tasked with resolving any
border issues with Thailand.