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
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,"
"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."