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Paet implicated in Samlot row

Paet implicated in Samlot row

BATTAMBANG - Wanted former Khmer Rouge general Nuon Paet is believed to be in Cambodia's

northwest, and embroiled in the region's political and military feuds.

CPP officials say that Paet, reportedly now using the name Mith Morn, was behind

a recent uprising against pro-CPP Khmer Rouge defectors. CPP sources allege he is

being protected by senior Funcinpec officials.

Paet is the subject of an arrest warrant for the killings of a Briton, an Australian

and a Frenchman at his former Phnom Vour mountain base in Kampot in 1994.

He was reported to have been killed by his own bodyguards in Kampot province last

October, but few people believed the reports. He was dead "in name only",

one KR defector said at the time.

Officials from both CPP and Funcinpec say that Paet was among KR troops who defected

to the government from their former base of Samlot, southwest of Battambang town.

Several sources claimed that Paet was now in Battambang.

Keo Pong, a regional deputy military commander and pro-CPP rebel defector, claimed

that Paet was "under the protection" of Battambang's deputy governor Serey

Kosal (Funcinpec).

Pong said that attempts to capture Paet were being made, adding: "I believe

we will arrest him soon. We are on his track."

Another senior CPP military commander, who would not be named, said: "We could

arrest him if there was not prevention from Funcinpec officials here. This does not

mean we are afraid at all, but we don't want clashes between Khmer and Khmer any

longer... We just wait for an opportunity [to arrest Paet]."

Kosal, when first questioned last week, denied meeting Paet and said he did not know

if the former KR general was among defectors from Samlot.

Several days later, he said: "How is Paet anyway? Samlot is out of Battambang

administration. Lots of people come to see me from there. I do know who is Paet and

I receive everyone [who comes to see me]."

If it was true that Paet was in Samlot, Kosal said that he was there "for a

long time and why they [CPP] haven't said before he was there."

There was no need to arrest Paet, he added.

"On behalf of the government, any Khmer Rouge [defectors] should be welcome,

even Nuon Paet or Ieng Sary. The government has already declared that Ieng Sary be

welcomed back and amnestied."

Meanwhile, a senior Funcinpec source said that Paet was alive and had been helped

by Keo Pong, who has led CPP efforts to recruit defectors.

"We knew at the end of December that he [Paet] was with Keo Pong, because he

was sighted by several Funcinpec officials in Samlot," he said, speaking on

condition of anonymity.

A former KR district commander at Samlot, Cham Sareth, said Paet had turned against

Keo Pong after defecting to the government.

"Paet defected to the government in Samlot district in October...under the false

name of Mith Morn," said Sareth, who is a supporter of Keo Pong and the CPP.

"In early February [Paet] led close to 100 troops from Samlot district to rebel

against their [pro-CPP] commanders...rocket launchers were used.

"Paet's voice was heard on ICOM radio ordering troop movements at that time,"

Sareth alleged.

"After the clash 40 rebel troops were arrested....but Paet managed to slip through

the net and is now in Battambang."

Sareth said that Nuon Say - son of reputed long-time KR Brother No.2 Nuon Chea -

was believed to have been with Paet in Samlot.

Keo Pong and Sareth alleged that both Nuon Say and Paet were in contact with the

KR hard-liners loyal to Pol Pot in Anlong Veng.

Paet is the only person wanted for the deaths of the foreign tourists, David Wilson,

Jean-Michel Braquet and Mark Slater.

But there has been repeated speculation that Cambodian officials may not seek his

capture for fear that it would fuel a long-standing debate about the handling of

the hostage crisis. Another issue is whether his arrest may upset continuing moves

to attract more KR defectors.

Sam Bith, former deputy to notorious rebel military chief Ta Mok during the Pol Pot

regime and the KR regional commander in Kampot at the time of the hostages' death,

has also defected to the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces. He was awarded the rank major

general in Samlot in early January.

The Australian Embassy in Phnom Penh's Charge d' Affairs, Stephanie Shwabsky, said

the embassy would contact the Cambodian government to try to confirm the reports

about Paet's induction into the government army.

"The Australian government has a clear commitment from the highest levels of

the Cambodian government that they will make every effort to bring Paet to justice,"

Shwabsky said. "It is a matter for the Cambodian government. They know the people

that can identify Paet."

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