Court: Suspect in Deminer Killing Released After False Arrest

Phnom Penh Municipal Court has released a man authorities say was wrongly arrested for the murder of the British deminer Christopher Howes, who was murdered 12 years ago in a Khmer Rouge stronghold, a judge said Friday.

An employee of the UK organization Mines Advisory Group, Howes and his interpreter Huon Huot were executed in Anlong Veng district following their abduction by Khmer Rouge forces in 1996.

Judge Ke Sakhorn, investigating magistrate in the case, also said another suspect recently detained over the murder is claiming to be the victim of mistaken identity, too, but that his claim was not credible.

Authorities announced pro­gress in the longstanding case this week as a Khmer Rouge combatant, Sin Dorn, was formally charged with Howes’ murder on Tuesday.

However Ke Sakhorn said he had on May 1 ordered the release of Cheas Chon, arrested last month in Oddar Meanchey’s Anlong Veng district, after another suspect said Cheas Chon was the wrong man.

“There are two people with the name Chon,” Ke Sakhorn said.

“He was a different Chon. He was not the Chon who was the perpetrator,” he said.

The municipal court gave Military Police authorities instructions to track down a former Khmer Rouge suspect identified only as “Chon,” hence the mistaken identity, he added.

“We just ordered the search for one person and the Military Police arrested wrongly,” Ke Sakhorn said, adding that the real suspect is believed to still be in the Anlong Veng area and the search for him continues.

Deputy Provincial Military Police Commander Puth Sarann said Friday that the arrests had been carried out by members of the National Military Police force.

Ke Sakhorn also said there have been six arrests in the case, not four as previously reported, and that five men, Khim Ngon, Loch Mao and Horm Hai as well as Cheam Chet and Sin Dorn, are now in detention.

Horm Hai, however, has also claimed this week that he is not the man the law is after, added the judge.

“He said he bought someone else’s [identity],” Ke Sakhorn said of the suspect.

The suspect said he was a former Khmer Rouge soldier in fact named Rim who had taken the name Horm Hai when he defected to the government, according to Ke Sakhorn.

The suspect has no evidence to prove the claim, he said, adding that the judicial investigation remained in good shape.

“It is not a problem. When there are two people and a false arrest, we will release him back to freedom,” the judge said.


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