Former Khmer Rouge commander Chhouk Rin said on Tuesday that he will not appear at today’s Appeals Court of Phnom Penh verdict on his role in a 1994 train ambush during which 13 Cambodians were killed and three Western tourists were taken hostage and later executed.
Speaking by telephone, Chhouk Rin said illness would stop him from attending the court, but he would turn himself over to the court if found guilty and would not resist imprisonment.
However, Chhouk Rin vowed to appeal his innocence to the Supreme Court if the Appeals Court rules against him.
“I will not go tomorrow because my health is not good. I have a fever and cold. I might send my lawyer to listen instead,” Chhouk Rin said.
Chhouk Rin said he was counting on the Appeals Court taking into account his acquittal of the three murders by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court in 2000.
“I will enter prison by the law…. But I believe I have done nothing wrong. What I did before was not wrong,” he said.
Khmer Rouge rebels held Australian David Wilson, 29, Briton Mark Slater, 28, and Frenchman Jean-Michel Braquet, 27, hostage for three months before executing them as government forces overran their base at Phnom Voar in Kampot province.
Chhouk Rin was jailed briefly for the train ambush and executions but cleared in 2000 on grounds he was protected by a 1994 amnesty for Khmer Rouge soldiers who made peace with the government.
He defected to the government a few weeks before the fall of Phnom Voar.
Both Chhouk Rin and his lawyer Puth Theavy were absent from last Wednesday’s Appeals Court trial, apparently protesting the court’s decision not to postpone the hearing so they could gather more evidence.
Puth Theavy said he may attend the reading of the verdict today, but only as an observer. Last Wednesday’s trial was held despite the absence of his client, so the verdict can be issued without his client, Puth Theavy said.
“I heard there was no new evidence at the trial to prove my client was guilty. Everything was the same as the first trial,” said Puth Theavy, who also vowed to go to the Supreme Court if Chhouk Rin is punished.
Chhouk Rin’s Appeals Court verdict coincides with today’s Supreme Court hearing for his former commander at Phnom Voar, Nuon Paet.
Nuon Paet was found guilty of kidnapping, illegally imprisoning and murdering the three hostages in 1999 by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court. He was imprisoned for life.
The Appeals Court upheld his conviction in 2000. Today’s hearing is Nuon Paet’s last chance to overturn his jail term.
Chhouk Rin, Nuon Paet and Sam Bith, regional commander for Khmer Rouge operations in Kampot province, are considered most responsible for the deaths of the tourists.
Sam Bith was arrested in May and is imprisoned in Phnom Penh awaiting trial.
Each of the three suspects blames someone else for executing the hostages, and claims the killings were ordered by then-Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, who died in 1998.
Australian Ambassador Louise Hand said Tuesday that her government would not comment on Chhouk Rin until after the verdict. British Ambassador Stephen Bridges also said that no comment would be made until after the verdict.
On Monday, Dy Borima, Nuon Paet’s lawyer, told a local journalists’ club that the municipal court failed to follow legal procedures in the arrest and charging of his client in 1999.
The case should have been thrown out for technical reasons, said Dy Borima, who laid the blame for the hostage killings on former rebel Veth Vorn.