H OPES that kidnapped deminer Christopher Howes and his interpreter Houn Hourth were
alive soared Nov 21 after a senior military officer told reporters the men would
return to Phnom Penh the following day.
But hope turned to disappointment after the two men failed to appear as promised.
A British embassy official said the pair may have been with a group of rebel KR,
which left Anlong Veng earlier this month, believed to be heading south for government
He said intercepted KR radio traffic indicated the group was being chased by hardliners.
However, none of the intercepted radio communications referred specifically to the
The fate of Howes and his Cambodian colleague - kidnapped by armed men eight months
ago - remained unclear at press time after they failed to appear at a Nov 22 rendezvous
claimed to have been arranged by General Nhek Bun Chhay.
Bun Chhay, a Deputy Chief of Staff of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF), said
Howes had "escaped" the Khmer Rouge base of Anlong Veng on Nov 5, together
with 151 KR soldiers who intended to defect to the government.
"He is currently about 20 km north of Stoeng in Kompong Thom...he is well but
very thin," Bun Chhay said.
The general said Howes - a former British soldier who was working as a demining instructor
with the Mines Advisory Group - had been forced to teach the KR how to make improvised
"They [the Khmer Rouge] treated him well but they made him work during the day
and locked him up at night," Bun Chhay said, adding he had talked to the rebel
group by radio.
When asked by the Post Nov 26 why the men had not arrived as predicted, Bun Chhay
said he could make no comment on the issue.
Howes was kidnapped along with members of a MAG de-mining platoon near the Angkor
Wat temple site on March 26.
According to first hand accounts he was offered a chance of freedom later the same
day in order to collect an undisclosed ransom for the release of his colleagues.
However, Howes refused the opportunity, opting instead to stay with his men. The
kidnappers then freed all but Howes and his intepreter.
The prime suspects in the kidnapping are said to be a group of KR defectors who were
subsequently sent to Poipet to fight their former comrades.
They quickly deserted the battlefield and drove back to Siem Reap in a commandeered
armored personnel carrier before snatching the deminers and moving north into hardline
KR territory at Anlong Veng on the Thai-Cambodia border.
Since then authorities have received conflicting information about the fate of the
In late August the Bangkok Post quoted a Khmer Rouge officer as saying Howes had
been executed and that his Cambodian colleague had died of malaria. The officer claimed
the execution was linked to a rebellion by KR dissidents.
However, a September 1 Khmer Rouge radio broadcast denied the report saying the rebel
group "was never involved in this story."
British officials have remained tight lipped throughout the crisis saying little
more than they have received a high level of cooperation from Cambodian authorities
but very little verifiable information.