The official court investigation into former Khmer Rouge commander Sam Bith has concluded, and prosecution for his alleged role in the 1994 slaying of three Western backpackers could begin as early as next month, lawyers and court officials said Thursday.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court Judge Sok Sethamony said officials finished compiling all evidence late last month, but a trial date has not yet been set.
“I received a report on [Sam Bith] from the prosecutor,” Sok Sethamony said. “But I do not yet look at it because I have other cases and there are many ceremonies at the end of the year.”
Sam Bith was arrested earlier this year in Battambang province on charges related to the abduction and execution of Australian David Wilson, 29, Briton Mark Slater, 28, and Frenchman Jean-Michel Braquet, 27, as well as 13 Cambodians killed in a train ambush. The three were passengers on a train to Kampot town when it was attacked by Khmer Rouge rebels. They were held hostage for two months before they were killed as government troops stormed the Phnom Voar guerrilla base.
Sam Bith, 69, was allegedly the regional Khmer Rouge commander for Kampot province. Two lower-ranking rebel commanders, Nuon Paet and Chhouk Rin, have been convicted of the kidnap and killing of the tourists.
Nuon Paet is serving a life sentence in jail. Chhouk Rin is preparing to defend a recent guilty verdict handed down by the Appeals Court in Phnom Penh.
Sam Bith’s lawyer Kar Savuth said Thursday he wants his aging and ailing client to be tried as soon as possible.
“I will push the court to open the trial soon. I expect it will happen next month because he has already served four months in prison,” Kar Savuth said.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a doctor attached to Prey Sar prison, where Sam Bith is detained, said the former rebel commander is suffering from high blood pressure.
“His blood pressure is irregular every day. We have watched his health carefully,” the doctor said.
Khmer Rouge forces were responsible for the deaths of more than 1 million people during their 1975 to 1979 ultra-Maoist regime. However, Sam Bith, Nuon Paet and Chhouk Rin are the only rebel suspects so far to face prosecution in a Cambodia court.