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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Wanted Nuon Paet snapped in Samlot

Wanted Nuon Paet snapped in Samlot

THE former Khmer Rouge general wanted for the deaths of three western hostages in

Kampot province in 1994 is alive and was photographed three months ago, sources have

confirmed.

Nuon Paet - reported to have been killed by his bodyguards in Kampot province last

October - was photographed in December, reportedly in Samlot hours before a planned

visit by First Prime Minister Norodom Ranariddh to the former Khmer Rouge area.

Sources in Kampot, Samlot and Phnom Penh have identified the man in the photograph

to the Post as Nuon Paet, who managed to escape a Royal army dragnet around his Phnom

Vour mountain base in Kampot in late 1994.

He later surfaced at the KR regional command base in Koh Sla, where the last of his

guerrillas defected late last year, amid claims that Paet had been killed.

But former comrades of Paet maintain that he was given an assurance of impunity as

part of a "deal" struck with government officials.

According to former KR, after his defection Noun Paet took the alias of Mith Morn

and is now going under the name Saum Kim.

The photographer, who requested anonymity, maintains the picture was taken in Samlot,

Dec 23, the day Ranariddh was due to making a flying visit. Ranariddh never arrived;

the visit was cancelled after a security scare.

The photographer said that he looked for Paet after overhearing an ICOM radio exchange

between former guerrillas, one of whom referred to Paet - and was instructed in reply

to use the "code name" instead.

He claimed he saw a man, whom he was not sure was Paet at that stage, talking to

army Deputy Chief of General Staff Nhek Bun Chhay (Funcinpec). The pair, he said,

were alone some 100 meters away.

He said that after Bun Chhay moved away, he photographed the other man walking to

a car.

Both CPP and Funcinpec sources allege that each side has attempted to woo Paet, in

a bid to bring over other defectors to their parties.

Paet's name appears on an initial list of defectors from KR Div 909, in southwestern

Cambodia, prepared in November but was missing from a replacement list given to the

government several days later, according to an independent source. 909 defectors

were considered loyal to CPP.

But CPP maintains that Paet was last month under the protection of Funcinpec's Battambang

deputy governor Serey Kosal, after the former KR general was allegedly involved in

an anti-CPP uprising in Samlot.

One CPP source, asked why Funcinpec would shelter Paet, replied that he could be

valuable to attract CPP-aligned defectors to Funcinpec.

Paet, according to one source, has threatened to kill fellow former KR chiefs who

are credited with luring many rebels to CPP. His current whereabouts are unknown.

Serey Kosal denied any knowledge of Paet, pointing the finger at CPP for cutting

the original defection deal with him.

"Perhaps the only [government] people who know Nuon Paet very well are Pol Saroeun

and Keo Pong," he said, referring to CPP loyalists who are former KR themselves.

"They are the ones who used to be on the same side."

"Have they ever reported to both Prime Ministers where Nuon Paet has been since

his defection?

"Only now they start talking about Nuon Paet. There must be a reason for that

- they fail to persuade Nuon Paet to join the CPP."

Keo Pong - who had earlier accused Kosal of hiding Paet - has previously said that

he wants to arrest the former KR general.

Nuon Paet is the only person wanted - under a court warrant - for the killing of

backpackers Australian David Wilson, Briton Mark Slater and French Jean-Michel Braquet

on Phnom Vour, after their abduction from a train in Kampot in July, 1994.

Given allegations that the government sabotaged the hostage negotiations for political

reasons, some observers speculate that it would be in no-one's interests for Paet

to be arrested, potentially shedding more light on the case.

Perhaps more importantly, any arrest of him could hinder continuing efforts by both

parties to lure more defectors to their ranks.

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