Sam Bith, left, accused of kidnapping and murdering three westerners, and Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, who wants him behind bars without further delay
THE Australian Government has renewed calls for the arrest and prosecution of RCAF
General Sam Bith for his alleged involvement in the kidnapping and subsequent murder
of an Australian backpacker and his British and French companions in 1994.
Australian concerns about the lack of official action in the case of Bith, who was
charged along with fellow former Khmer Rouge commander Chhouk Rin in January for
his role in the kidnap/murder were underlined during a May 19 press conference held
by visiting Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer.
Downer expressed obvious dissatisfaction that Bith had ignored a summons issued by
the Phnom Penh municipal court in January calling him for questioning, and that authorities
had made no attempt to apprehend him..
"I've obviously been making the point that those who were allegedly involved
in the death of David Wilson and his British and French colleagues should be brought
to justice. And we hope that Sam Bith [will] be charged," Downer said. "I
personally don't know where [Bith] is , but I think I do know where the judicial
consideration of his case is at and I think it's important that charges be laid and
when charges are laid, I would expect the Cambodian authorities to detain him."
Wilson, along with Briton Mark Slater and Frenchman Jean-Michel Bracquet, were kidnapped
on July 26, 1994, from a Sihanoukville-bound train in a Khmer Rouge attack that killed
13 Cambodians. After two months of aborted negotiations and military attempts to
secure their release the three were murdered by their captors.
Prosecution of both Rin and Bith for their involvement in the murders was first proposed
in the aftermath of the trial of Nuon Paet, who was convicted and sentenced to life
imprisonment on June 7 for ordering the killings.
Bith was the commanding officer of both Paet and Rin, who led the initial train attack.
According to diplomatic sources in Phnom Penh, the investigation by Phnom Penh Municipal
Court Judge Mong Mony Chariya into Rin and Bith's roles in the murders was concluded
on May 17 and the case was about to be handed to a court prosecutor.
The source indicated that Chariya had found more than sufficient evidence to support
Bith's involvement in the murders and that Bith and Rin would probably stand trial
together. Rin was arrested on Jan 17 and according to Cambodian law he must go to
trial within six months of that date, by July 17.
Chariya was unavailable for comment.
However, Bith's lawyer, Kar Savuth, told the Post that it was unlikely Bith would
ever go to trial.
"I have told the municipal court not to arrest Bith until they have concrete
evidence that he was involved in the kidnapping and killing," he said. "And
I have evidence that proves he was not involved."
Savuth declined to reveal what exonerating evidence he had uncovered.
Meanwhile the Australian Embassy's First Secretary, Ian McConville, emphasized that
the Australian government would keep the heat on the government to ensure that it
followed through on its own initiatives to prosecute Bith.
"This is both a consular matter as well as one in which the [Wilson] family
remains particularly interested in accountability for what happened," McConville
explained. "We're closely following the outcome of this case."