The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday convicted and sentenced four former Khmer Rouge soldiers to between 10 and 20 years each for their involvement in the 1996 abduction and murder of British deminer Christopher Howes and his Cambodian interpreter Houn Hourth.
Reading from the decision for the Oct 3 trial, Iv Kimsry, chief of the three-judge panel hearing the case, handed down a sentence of 20 years in prison to Khim Ngon, 58, who was promoted to be a brigadier general and deputy chief of staff of the RCAF infantry after defecting to the government a decade ago. Twenty-year sentences were also given to defendants Loch Mao and Puth Lim.
Iv Kimsry also ordered the three men, who were convicted of three charges—premeditated killing, kidnapping and being members of the Khmer Rouge—to pay a total of $10,000 in compensation to Houn Hourth’s family.
Suspect Cheab Chet, 33, was acquitted of premeditated killing, the only charge against him. The Siem Reap Provincial Court had previously convicted and sentenced Cheab Chet in 1997 to five years in prison for being a member of the Khmer Rouge—which was outlawed in 1994—but he served only nine months before receiving a royal pardon.
The judges also cleared 52-year-old Sin Dorn of kidnapping and premeditated killing charges in the deaths of Howes and Houn Hourth, who were abducted in Siem Reap’s Angkor Thom district province and later executed in Anlong Veng.
However, the judges did find Sin Dorn guilty of belonging to the Khmer Rouge military and sentenced him to 10 years in prison.
Lou MacGrath, chief executive of the Mines Advisory Group, which employed Howes and Houn Hourth, welcomed the guilty verdict in a statement distributed to the media at the court Tuesday.
“Today, we feel that justice has been done for our two colleagues who were brutally murdered while carrying out life-saving work,” MacGrath said, adding that the families were happy with the decision and could now move on with their lives.
“Although we have never sought revenge, we are pleased that the murderers of Christopher and Hourth have been brought to account,” Patricia Phillips, Howes’ sister, said in the statement.
Defendant Puth Lim decried the 20-year sentence he received, saying it was unjust given that he had only collected materials to burn the bodies of the slain deminer.
“There is no justice,” Puth Lim told reporters. “They ordered me to burn, and if I didn’t burn, they would kill me,” he said, adding that those orders came from Pol Pot and former Khmer Rouge commander Ta Mok. During the Oct 3 trial, all the defendants said they were not the ones who actually killed Howes and that whatever involvement they did have was involuntary and under orders from Ta Mok and Pol Pot.
Attorney Long Dara, who represented Khim Ngon, said that he would appeal the decision, adding that the court unfairly convicted men that had defected from the Khmer Rouge in the name of peace.
“It was not justice or transparent for people who had already surrendered to the government,” Long Dara said.