Khem Ngun's name may not be a household word in Peoria, Illinois, but in the arcane
world of Khmer Rouge watchers he has been a player of significant interest for years,
primarily for his role as chief of staff of the remaining KR military forces in Anlong
Veng during the 1990s.
As a longstanding Ta Mok loyalist going back to the 1960s, the Takeo native was Mok's
right hand man and heir apparent.
More than a decade ago his name cropped up in association with the Christopher Howes
and Houn Hoerth kidnapping and subsequent executions. He was a logical senior operative
to handle such a high profile situation, especially during a time when the KR were
thrashing out the last acts of their final demise.
In August 1998 after Pol Pot died in April, former Phnom Penh Post reporter Nate
Thayer was in Bangkok. Ngun was one of Nate's contacts within the organization who
was accessible and willing to talk. Nate invited me to go to northeast Thailand to
meet with Ngun to discuss a range of issues. What follows are notes of our interview
with Ngun who knew at that time the Howes case was a political hot potato- Michael
"Koun's soldiers brought Christopher Howes. They stopped overnight, one night.
"On day 2 staff of Tem reported to Tem, then Pol Pot and Mok.
"On day 2 Pol Pot called me to meet him. Pol Pot informed me staff of military
had caught a foreigner. He said Ngun speaks English so should talk to Howes. On Day
3 I left Anlong Veng to go to Romeas. Pol Pot said a foreigner was captured so please
go to meet him and discuss his job. Forty kms from Anlong Veng near the west of Varin.
"On day three at 9:45am, I discussed with Howes for one hour. He described his
job as a de-miner, he liked the Cambodian people, he was a good man. We had lunch
together. I didn't understand Pol Pot's thinking at the time about Christopher Howes.
He didn't say kill him or keep him as a prisoner. Mok didn't know about it; he wasn't
in Anlong Veng.
"After lunch, we rested for two hours. Howes rode in the back of the car with
me, not in handcuffs. He was in the back of a 4-door car. In Anlong Veng at 7PM on
the third day. Only Howes was there. After Anlong Veng I didn't know Pol Pot's plan.
"I called Mao a man I could believe. He's still in Anlong Veng. Howes was in
the school on the second floor. Saroeun [Editor's note: Saroeun was one of the three
cadre "tried" with Pol Pot. He was subsequently executed.] called me to
see me. He told me "your job is finished". Saroeun ordered five or six
other people to be there. Afterward Saroeun brought me to see Mok.
"I don't know what he told Ta Mok but I heard some parts. Saroeun said he met
Pol Pot, told Ta he should take duty of Howes from Ngun at 9:30 pm. Saroeun told
my driver to pick up Howes and take to Saroeun. Saroeun didn't go in the car.
"My driver took Howes to a place designated by Saroeun, about one km west of
Ta's house. I was split already. Everything after that was Saroeun's duty. But by
report from my driver, Saroeun wasn't near Howes, about 100 meters. The order to
kill Howes came about 11pm approximately. And burn the body. About bones, none left.
Saroeun threw them in the water near O'chi. Not concerned with Ta Mok, he knew nothing.
"I don't understand why they killed him. Pol Pot ordered something. I don't
"I didn't do it. Pol Pot said to tie him up so he couldn't run away. The order
to kill is not from Ta Mok but from Pol Pot. Same as order to kill three in Phnom
Vour. He [Howes] was a good man. He talked and spoke good. He wasn't scared. He was
afraid in the morning but I talked to him for two hours and he wasn't afraid. If
I knew he was to be killed I wouldn't have brought him to Anlong Veng. I think Pol
Pot wanted him to be a hostage.
"Howes saids to me he was from an NGO to demine, not putting in mines. He really
wanted peace. When I saw Pol Pot before I went to see Howes Pol Pot asked me to check
if he was helping Cambodians or to kill Cambodian people. Howes said: I like Cambodian
people, to help stop the war. If I knew Pol Pot's idea, I would have let him go away.
It makes me sad this story. Someone may believe or some may not, but Howes is gone
already. It's hard to have the proof. I have difficulties and I cry about it. I can't
express what I feel. If Ta said do not kill Howes, Pol Pot could not go against it.
"Howes didn't know himself [he was going to be killed]. Nobody spoke English
so he couldn't understand. I couldn't talk about it otherwise I couldn't come back
to Anlong Veng. Saroeun, San, Khan and Pol Pot who made the internal break-up, they
are dead now. If you asked Pol Pot he wouldn't answer about Howes."