Ambassadors of Australia, Britain, France and the US were invited to the former Khmer Rouge stronghold of Phnom Voar Tuesday by supporters of Chhouk Rin—the area’s one-time rebel chief who was recently convicted of killing three foreign tourists there in 1994.
The invitation is part of efforts by Phnom Voar residents to convince people and officials that Chhouk Rin was not involved in a 1994 train ambush during which 13 Cambodians were killed and three Western backpackers were abducted and later executed.
The Appeals Court of Phnom Penh sentenced Chhouk Rin to life in prison earlier this month for his role in the attack.
He is currently hiding out in Phnom Voar while his lawyer and supporters prepare to challenge the stiff prison sentence.
“We invited [embassy representatives] to Phnom Voar to talk with the people and to clarify the allegations against Chhouk Rin,” said Phnom Voar resident Ouch Nuon after visiting the British Embassy.
“The embassy officials have only heard bad things about Phnom Voar. They have never heard the good things,” said Ouch Nuon, who had earlier deposited invitations at the Australian, French and US embassies.
Ouch Nuon and four other Phnom Voar residents—who signed the invitation letter—said the embassies may change their opinion of Chhouk Rin if they talk with locals.
“Hearing is not like seeing, and seeing is not like touching,” the invitation stated.
British Embassy Charge d’Affaires Ian Felton said the invitation implies the embassy should conduct its own investigation. However, that was the duty of the Cambodian courts, he said.
According to the authors of the invitation, Chhouk Rin did not attack the train and defected to the government before Australian David Wilson, 29, Briton Mark Slater, 28, and Frenchman Jean-Michel Braquet, 27 were executed.
The letter questioned whether Chhouk Rin’s conviction was the result of pressure from the three involved embassies.
Chhouk Rin had been acquitted of crimes linked to the attack by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court in 2000.
Australian Ambassador Louise Hand said she was unaware of the invitation but was checking on its whereabouts.
More than 1,200 Phnom Voar residents have placed their thumbprints on a petition letter testifying to Chhouk Rin’s innocence, but the popular commander remains in hiding, his supporters said.
“He has old experience of being cheated. So now he stays on alert,” Ouch Nuon said.