Former Khmer Rouge commander Nuon Paet has written to the Supreme Court, claiming former rebel commander Chhouk Rin was not involved in the 1994 Kampot province train hijacking that led to the deaths of three Western backpackers.
Nuon Paet, who is imprisoned at Prey Sar prison for his involvement in the killings, wrote the letter ahead of Chhouk Rin’s final Supreme Court appeal against his conviction for the killings, scheduled for Wednesday, according to a copy of the statement obtained Monday.
“[Chhouk Rin] was not involved in this story, so please Supreme Court Director, help find justice for Chhouk Rin,” Nuon Paet wrote in the letter dated Jan 28.
The statement was witnessed and signed by Prey Sar prison Director Kim Sarin. Attempts to contact Kim Sarin by telephone were unsuccessful Monday.
The order to attack the train was given by Pol Pot and Sam Bith, former Khmer Rouge regional commander for Kampot province, Nuon Paet wrote, adding “I saw the order.”
Yong Vorn, a district commander in Phnom Voar—not Chhouk Rin—led the attack, he wrote. “There was an order from Sam Bith to…Yong Vorn to destroy the three at the Knach Prei base.”
Sam Bith, who has been convicted for his role in the Westerners’ deaths, is unable to speak following a stroke, his wife said last week. Sam Bith also gave the order for the Cambodians who survived the hijacking to be released, and for the backpackers to be kept as a bargaining tool to be used with the government, Nuon Paet wrote.
Although Chhouk Rin was disabled and did not take part in the train ambush, he was found guilty because soldiers under his command took part, Presiding Judge Samrith Sophal told the Appeals Court when Chhouk Rin was sentenced to life in prison on Sept 6, 2002.
Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, warned against jumping to conclusions about the upcoming court decision. “The public should watch carefully and closely monitor the case,” he said. “It will be difficult to ensure the fairness of the trial” without public scrutiny.
(Additional reporting by Pin Sisovann and William Shaw)