NEGOTIATIONS to try to free British deminer Christopher Howes and his Khmer interpreter
Houn Hoerth, kidnapped March 26, could be made from Thailand, according to sources
in Siem Reap.
The pair are believed to be held hostage in the Khmer Rouge stronghold of Anlong
Veng near the Thai border. Last week a delegation of seven Thai military officials
from bordering Surin province spent two days in Siem Reap.
"The main point of the Thai officials' visit is tourism but we will also talk
with them on this [kidnapping] issue," said Khan Savoeun, fourth military region
commander in Siem Reap. "We are trying our best to find the deminer. We have
not had any result in our investigations from our side and we will talk to the Thais."
Nhek Bun Chhay, the Royal army deputy chief of staff who accompanied the delegation,
said: "The delegation just comes to solve some security problems along the border."
In Phnom Penh, First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh said May 23 that he
had "some news from Thailand" about Howes but he could not reveal it. He
nodded his head when asked if he thought the hostages were still alive.
Officials in Siem Reap said they are convinced that the two men are still alive.
"According to the news I received from civilians, they are detained in a house,"
said provincial governor Toan Chay.
Hem Bung Heng, the second deputy governor, said the hostages were well guarded. They
were being fed, but Howes had been reported as having malaria.
Khan Savoeun said the kidnappers' aim had been to get money but as the hostage situation
grew longer, "it is more and more difficult to find a solution."
He said that the KR defectors believed to have seized the two men initially asked
for a 10,000 baht (about $400) ransom. The authorities had been prepared to pay,
but the kidnappers moved to Anlong Veng before the hand-over could be arranged.
"Now I cannot say what the Khmer Rouge want," said the general.
"Now the two men are in Anlong Veng and it is more difficult to communicate...
Our contact is cut and the only way we can get in touch with them is from the Thai
Savoeun, a Funcinpec officer, indicated the recent political tension in Cambodia
had contributed to the loss of contact with the kidnappers. In a reference to CPP,
he said that he had voluntarily stopped trying to contact the KR so that "the
other party" was not suspicious that Funcinpec was cooperating with the rebel
group for other reasons. Hem Bung Heng, however, said authorities were still trying
to find a way to contact the Anlong Veng KR commander Ta Mok.
Officials said eight Cambodian policeman and soldiers have been killed, by mines
or ambushes, in the search for Howes and Hoerth.