Former KR Head Chhouk Rin on Trial for 1994 Train Attack

Suspect Sam Bith Remains Free

As Chhouk Rin stands trial today for his alleged involvement in the train ambush that led to the murders of three Western backpackers in 1994, his supposed accomplice remains free.

And it is questionable whether former Khmer Rouge commander Sam Bith, the only one of three suspects linked to the train attack who is not in custody, will ever face prosecution.

Yet Chaktriya, deputy chief of prosecutors for Phnom Penh’s municipal court, said on Monday he recently re­ceived new evidence from Sam Bith’s lawyer that shows Sam Bith was not present when the three foreigners were killed.

“But the document does not confirm that [Sam Bith] was not involved in the killings,” Yet Chaktriya said. “That’s why the investigation is still going on. We know where he is, but we need time for investigation. Now we are trying to find more documents.”

Kao Savuth, Sam Bith’s lawyer, said Monday he knows six former rebels who were present while the backpackers were being held in Kampot and are willing to testify on behalf of his client.

“The witnesses prove that Sam Bith is not guilty,” he claimed.

Kao Savuth said the last time he saw his client was approximately two weeks ago, when

Sam Bith traveled to an area near the former Khmer Rouge stronghold of Pailin in northwestern Cambodia, where he has since been staying.

“Before I used to meet Sam Bith very frequently in Phnom Penh,” Kao Savuth said. “He always called me, but I never got any money from him.”

Kao Savuth and Co-Minister of Defense Tea Banh said

Monday that Sam Bith has been working as usual in his capacity as an adviser to the Ministry of Defense, coming to the ministry periodically to meet with high-ranking officials.

Chhouk Rin and Sam Bith, both former Khmer Rouge commanders who defected and became officers in Cambodia’s army, have been accused of responsibility for the train raid in Kampot province in which at least 13 Cambodians were killed.

The third suspect, Nuon Paet, was convicted one year ago of ordering the train ambush and sentenced to life in prison. Nuon Paet was also a former guerrilla commander, but he did not defect before being captured. Both Chhouk Rin and Sam Bith testified against Nuon Paet during his trial.

Nuon Paet was the first Khmer Rouge to ever be tried for acts committed while working for the notorious movement. Chhouk Rin will be the second. (The government and the UN still do not have a deal on setting up a tribunal for those responsible for atrocities committed from 1975-79. see page 12)

The backpackers—Australian David Wilson, 29, Briton Mark Slater, 28, and 27-year-old Jean-Michel Braquet of France—were killed at Phnom Voar after being held hostage for more than two months. Negotiations to free the young men drew international media attention.

When Chhouk Rin was arrested in January, the municipal court sent a summons to Sam Bith to come in for questioning, but the two-star RCAF general failed to show up.

At the time, several prominent government officials, including Defense co-Minister Tea Banh, said they were confident Sam Bith would have to answer for his part in the murders.

Sao Sokha, the national military police commander who led the arrest of Chhouk Rin, said he has not had any orders to find Sam Bith since the summons in January.

“When we got the letter from the court to question him, we went to his house near Olympic Market to bring him to court, but he was not there,” Sao Sokha said Monday. “That’s the last time we looked for Sam Bith. We gave our information to the court so this doesn’t involve us anymore.”

Put Theavy, Chhouk Rin’s lawyer, also has said he has enough documents and eyewitnesses to prove his client is not guilty, because Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot sent the order to kill the backpackers to Sam Bith, who then relayed the message to Nuon Paet.

But Yet Chaktriya, who is also one of the prosecutors in the Chhouk Rin trial, said he has enough evidence against Chhouk Rin that the judge will find him guilty.

Yet Chaktriya also disputed accusations made last year by human rights groups, which said the trial of Nuon Paet exemplified the weaknesses in the legal system, because evidence cited by the judge was not presented in court and the verdict seemed pre-written.

“I don’t care what people from the outside say,” Yet Chaktriya said. “When we make any decision, we always get criticized from the outside so let them do it. We have worked according to the rules.”

Patrice Bonnal, first secretary of the French embassy, said Monday that he had no comment on Chhouk Rin’s trial and preferred to wait to see what happens in court.

As for Sam Bith, the French government has asked several times that all the culprits be arrested, but “there is nothing new,” Bonnal said.

An Australian embassy source also said he would wait to see how the Chhouk Rin case proceeds, and reiterated that “all those responsible for the murders are brought to justice.”

British Ambassador George Edgar said it was the Cambodian courts that raised Sam Bith’s name as a suspect and it was up to the Cambodian authorities to decide what evidence there is against him.

“It is not proper for foreign embassies to interfere,” he said.

Family members of all three victims will be in court today, embassy officials said.

 

Related Stories

Latest News

The Weekly DispatchA weekly newsletter from The Cambodia Daily delivering news, analysis and opinion to your inbox. Published every Friday at 11:30am. Sign up today.