S IHANOUKVILLE police have captured and taken the confession of one of the Khmer Rouge soldiers, a defector, who killed three young Westerners in April last year.
"I am very regretful. I am an uneducated man. I would have been shot had I refused the order," prisoner Chuon Samnang, 34, told Reuters on June 26.
Samnang was one of the three gunmen who marched the three Westerners a kilometer from the rebel camp where they had been interrogated, lined them up on the bank of a small stream, and shot them.
When asked if he was one of the executioners, the man known as Mean kept avoiding eye contact, and muttered: "Yes."
Senior police and legal officials have invited the families of Australian Kellie Wilkinson, 24, and Britons Dominic Chappell, 25, and Tina Dominy, 24, to attend Samnang's trial.
Chairman of Sihanoukville Provincial Court, Huon Many, said that the families could learn the true circumstances behind the deaths of their children.
Samnang, dressed in blue prison garb, said he was a nephew of KR commander Sem Bo of Regiment 27 based in the Bokor Mountain area in Sihanoukville. It was Bo, he said, who ordered the murders, calling the trio "neo-colonialists."
"Sem Bo accused the three Westerners of putting a colonial yoke on Cambodia," said General Tak Van Tha, the Sihanoukville police chief credited with Samnang's arrest.
On April 11, 1994, the trio were taken from their taxi during a Khmer Rouge ambush on Route 4 while they were on their way to Sihanoukville, where Chappell and Wilkinson ran a restaurant. They were executed on the morning of the next day.
Samnang and four accomplices mined the area around the bodies and left them where they fell for some days.
Bo ordered the executioners back to the site to bury the bodies. One of the KR rebels stepped on one of his own mines and was killed.
Samnang had served 10 years with his uncle Sem Bo. On April 18, he defected his rank and later joined his family in Tram Kok district, Takeo province.
He was arrested on May 20, according to a Sihanoukville court document.
After being held in custody in military Region 3 headquarters in Kampot province for more than a month, he was transferred to Sihanoukville prison on June 23 upon a request letter signed by Sihanoukville Governor Thaom Bun Sron and deputy-chief police Brigadier-General Yin Bunnat.
It is understood Samnang defected with 200,000 baht, which he tried using to bribe his freedom.
Four other KR soldiers were still wanted in connection with the murders, said General Tha.
Sihanoukville court is still waiting for an answer from the Ministry of Justice about a defense lawyer for Samnang before proceeding to open a court trial.
Samnang would be charged with premeditated murder and conspiracy related to the highway attack.
Ker Sakhan, Sihanoukville court's deputy who is also in charge of investigating the murders, said that under Cambodia's provisional criminal law the former guerrilla would serve up to 20 years in jail if found guilty.
He added that the police had evidence such as forensic tests of the victims' remains done in Britain to prove charges against Samnang. Villagers living near the KR-controlled area, who were questioned by police investigators earlier, would also give their testimony in court.
Many told Reuters that Samang's jail sentence may be reduced if he provided information leading to the arrest of the other four suspects.