Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Backpacker murder suspect remains at large

Backpacker murder suspect remains at large

Backpacker murder suspect remains at large

bacK.jpg
bacK.jpg

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"

said Hand.

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

Bith's whereabouts.

"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."

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