Tea Sarim, the Khmer Rouge commander who led the attack on a train that resulted
in the kidnapping and executions of three western backpackers in July 1994, has died
after being struck by a bolt of lightning, relatives and friends said.
Tet Nuon, a former Khmer Rouge soldier and commune chief in Chamkar Bei, Kampot Province,
said Sarim died in mid-May while visiting a neighbor when the house was hit by lightning.
"He was sitting inside the house when the lightning hit," he said.
Three backpackers, Australian David Wilson, Briton Mark Slater and Frenchman Jean-Michel
Braquet were abducted during the attack in Kampot about 150 kilometers south of Phnom
They were shot in the head three months later on the orders of Khmer Rouge leader
Pol Pot following a botched attempt to meet a $50,000 ransom demand.
Two former Khmer Rouge leaders - Sam Bith and Nuon Paet - are currently serving life
sentences for their role in the executions. A third Chhouk Rin, faces jail but is
currently free pending an appeal.
In Chamkar Bei, Nuon said the traditional Khmer home was badly damaged in the lightning
strike and its owners later had it leveled amid fears of bad karma
Nuon also clarified confusion surrounding the death of Vet Vorn, the man ordered
to oversee the executions. He said Bith and Paet had agreed to defect to the government
towards the end of 1996 but Vorn, a strict adherent to the ultra-Maoist ideology
of the Khmer Rouge, had refused. Bith subsequently ordered Paet to kill Vorn.