Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Paet heads for speedy trial

Paet heads for speedy trial

Paet heads for speedy trial

FORMER KR commander Nuon Paet looks likely to receive swift justice in his June

7 trial for the murder of three westerners in 1994 - the judge Buninh Bunnary

says she expects the case to be over by lunch time on the first day.

And

the result appears to be a foregone conclusion. When the investigating Judge Oum

Sarith was asked about Paet's chances of acquittal he said: "if Nuon Paet is

found not guilty his lawyer would have to be a super-lawyer like OJ Simpson's

lawyer."

Paet is facing six charges relating to the kidnapping and

subsequent murder of Briton Mark Slater, 28, Frenchman Jean-Michel Braquet and

Australian David Wilson, 29.

The three men were seized from a train in

Kampot on July 26, 1994, by the KR, and murdered after ransom negotiations

failed and a military attack on the area they were being held in failed to

secure their release.

Ten Khmers were killed in the initial attack on the

train.

There are already indications that Nuon Paet is going to get

little more than a show trial, mainly for the benefit of relations with the

victims' countries.

One diplomat said that the defense had been told not

to put up "a strong case because the prosecution does not have a strong

case".

But he added that if the trial was not seen to be fair it is

unlikely to appease the deep feelings about the issue in the countries

involved.

A transcript of Sarith's questioning of Paet indicates his

defense will rely on placing responsibility for the attack and the deaths on to

his former commander Sam Bet, now a senior RCAF officer.

When Paet was

asked: "whose idea was it to take the three foreigners as hostages?" He replied:

"it was Sam Bet's idea, he was the regional commander. He ordered Veth Vorn to

gather 200 of our men to ambush the train but I did not participate. . . I

ordered the hostages not to be harmed."

Later in the interview he said he

stopped contact with Bet because Bet did not trust him because "I had released

foreigners before."

Paet had released US citizen Melissa Himes, who was

working for Food for the Hungry when she was kidnapped and released in exchange

for 50 kilograms of rice and some agricultural equipment.

In another

interview he said that he considered the hostages "international friends that we

must not harm."

He said that the actual killing was carried out by Veth

Vorn on the orders of Sam Bet. He said he asked Vorn why he killed the three men

and Vorn said: "'I received orders from Sam Bet the regional commander, not only

from you, they hid it from you."

However, Oum Sarith said that they

would be calling as a witness Ouk Bon, Paet's former bodyguard, who will testify

that he heard Paet give the order to kill the hostages.

Meanwhile

attempts are underway to charge other former KR leaders for the train attack and

westerners' murder.

A letter from the prosecutor to Hun Sen sent earlier

this month has been obtained by the Post. It requests that Hun Sen remove the

immunity enjoyed by Sam Bet and Chhouk Rin, who was in charge of the attack on

the train.

The letter stated that there is evidence to lay charges under

criminal and anti-terrorism legislation against the two men.

Both men are

now members of RCAF, and are covered by a law that prohibits charges being laid

against government employees without the approval of their superiors.

So

far there has been no direct confirmation that Hun Sen has given the go

ahead.

It is likely that the Government will face international pressure

to put more people on trial for the crimes particularly if Nuon Paet implicates

them in his own trial.

Australian Ambassador Malcolm Leader and British

Ambassador George Edgar said they have not requested specific people be tried,

but have always maintained to the Government their expectation that those people

responsible for the murder of their nationals would be brought to

justice.

The ambassadors refused to comment on the case, saying they

would wait and see what happened.

Sam Bet said that he was not worried by

a trial and would come to the court if summonsed. Chhouk Rin is also understood

to be prepared to stand trial, though he regards the train attack as having been

covered by the amnesty he received when he defected.

But both men are

likely to find their first experience of the court is in the witness box rather

than the dock.

Judge Buninh Bunnary said the court has issued summons

asking Sam Beh and Chhouk Rin to come to the trial as witnesses.

"We

already sent the summons letters through the second bureau of the Ministry of

Defense," she said.

It is still to be seen how co-operative they would

be. Oum Sarith said that during the investigation Chhouk Rin and Sam Bith

avoided being interviewed by court officials.

"We summoned them. . . they

did not come," he said, adding that Bit had sent some written answers that were

passed on to the judge.

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