Today the people of Phnom Voar are satisfied.
The man who helped fix their roads, turn their minefields to farm fields and feed them when they were hungry is free.
“Justice is justice,” an old woman cried Tuesday as she climbed into a pickup truck for the journey back to the jungles of Kampot province in southern Cambodia.
“The court is fair.”
Moments earlier, former Khmer Rouge commander Chhouk Rin was cleared of charges that he led the 1994 train ambush that ended in the kidnapping and execution of three Western backpackers.
After six months in jail, he walked out of court a free man, leaving the victims’ families stunned.
But for the 30 people who drove up from his home village of Chamkar Bei in Kep to be at Chhouk Rin’s side during his trial, the verdict was vindication.
“I lived with him. I know him well,” said 67-year-old Chamrith Ren, Chhouk Rin’s neighbor. “He did not attack the train.”
The judge said Chhouk Rin was released because his 1994 defection to the government gave him immunity from prosecution.
His neighbors insist simply that he is not guilty because he did not commit the crime.
“We are here to witness. He is a good man. He is not a killer,” said Nheim Nat, a former Khmer Rouge soldier. “He did not kill the three foreigners.”
Chamkar Bei residents and others from nearby Kampot province who know him lay the blame for the train ambush and executions on Nuon Paet, who has already been convicted, and Sam Bith, now an RCAF general.
“Chhouk Rin is a smaller person than the two others,” Nheim Nat explained.
Those who came from Kep and Kampot province for the trial call Chhouk Rin their friend. Some are farmers and others are former soldiers.
Some were nowhere near Phnom Voar during the train attack and executions, and others have intimate details of the events.
Chum Oun, a 57-year-old former soldier, helped bury the three foreigners. He said he and three others used two hoes to dig a shallow grave.
Each of the victims had been shot once, and they had not eaten for several days, he said. He also insisted Chhouk Rin was not involved.
Like villagers in many former Khmer Rouge areas in Kampot, the people from Chamkar Bei are poor.
Many came to the trial wearing clothes still bearing creases, carefully stored away for special occasions. Chhouk Rin’s day in court was a reason to bring out the good clothes.
“I came here because I miss him,” No said.
And they miss what he did for them.
A road was being built in Chamkar Bei village, but construction stopped when Chhouk Rin was arrested.
Only he had the influence and connections to get a road built, villagers say.
Chhouk Rin is scheduled to leave for home today—and the people of Chamkar Bei hope their road will soon be finished.