Sam Bith, the former KR commander implicated in the 1994 kidnap and murder of three
Western backpackers, remains a free man one year after Australian Foreign Minister
Alexander Downer appealed to the Cambodian government to bring him to justice.
The accused, Sam Bith
The Australian Embassy in Phnom Penh is expressing frustration at the apparent lack
of Cambodian government interest in locating and arresting Bith, who was charged
in Jan, 2000 with the murder of Australian backpacker David Wilson and his two companions.
"We've raised the issue [of Bith's arrest] on a number of occasions," Australian
Ambassador Louise Hand said. "We have made the Australian government's position
perfectly clear on this."
Hand said that Bith's arrest remained a key bilateral issue between the two countries
and that she had "no idea" why Bith remained at large.
Wilson along with Frenchman Jean-Michel Bracquet and Mark Slater of Great Britain
were kidnapped after a July, 1994 Khmer Rouge attack on their Sihanouk-ville bound
bus that killed 13 Cambodians. Two months of negotiations proved fruitless when the
men were slain by their captors.
Bith was the Khmer Rouge commander who is alleged to have ordered the execution of
the three men, prompting Downer to urge Cambodian authorities during a May 19, 2000
Phnom Penh press conference to act, saying that Australia "...would expect the
Cambodian authorities to detain [Bith]".
Government action in pursuing other key suspects in the case have brought mixed results.
In June 1999 Nuon Paet was convicted of the three backpackers' murders and sentenced
to life in prison. His October 2000 appeal of that conviction was rejected.
A third suspect, Chhouk Rin, was freed in July, 2000 by a Phnom Penh Municipal Court
judge's ruling that absolved Rin of culpability due to the 1994 KR law's amnesty
provision. The ruling was criticized by victims' families and legal experts and an
appeal of the court's ruling has been launched.
But Bith has successfully escaped the judicial and media attention endured by Rin
and Paet and according to his former lawyer Kar Savuth, judicial proceedings against
Bith have been suspended.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court Investigating Judge Mong Mony Chariya dismisses Savuth's
assertions that Bith was no longer officially considered a fugitive.
"Of course he'd say that," Chariya told the Post. "Lawyers have to
say things like that."
According to Chariya, the case against Bith is very much open.
"This case is not finished yet, it is continuing and I would like to see it
finished as soon as possible" he said.
Chariya blamed the slow progress in the government's case against Bith on "tactical
problems" of a nature he refused to elaborate upon.
Bith's location, like the judicial proceedings against him, remains equally elusive.
"We're not out there on the beat looking for Sam Bith - that's not our role"
A senior official from the Ministry of Defense told the Post that Bith was living
in the former KR stronghold of Anlong Veng, an allegation disputed by former KR General
and Anlong Veng resident Yiem Sokphana. While Bith is still listed as an "advisor"
to the Cambodian Ministry of Defense, the MOD official claimed that he has never
actually done any work at the Ministry since he was appointed in 1998.
Judge Chariya conceded that while a summons for Bith is still valid, he could not
say when Bith would see the inside of his court and likewise had no knowledge of
"I couldn't give an exact date [for Bith's court appearance]" he said.
"I can tell you that we will follow all our procedures correctly."