Former KR Leader a Fugitive

Friend Says Sam Bith Will Finger Ta Mok

A former Khmer Rouge general wanted for questioning in the 1994 kidnapping and deaths of three Western backpackers has failed to respond to a summons, and authorities may now seek to arrest him, a court official said Wednesday.

But one of Sam Bith’s associates, a former guerrilla who is now an RCAF general, said Wed­nesday in Battambang province that the suspect left for Phnom Penh four days ago to “tell the truth.”

Nheim Kong, 48, said from his home in the small town of Sdao that Sam Bith planned to implicate Ta Mok, the rebel chief of staff who sits in a Phnom Penh military court jail cell awaiting a trial for crimes against humanity.

“He will tell the true story: Ta Mok made the plan to do this,” said Nheim Kong, a Khmer Rouge cadre for 26 years until his 1996 defection.

Sam Bith has been charged with murder, kidnapping and other crimes for his role in a 1994 train raid that killed 13 Cam­bodians and ensnared three Western backpackers in Kampot province. The backpackers— Briton Mark Slater, Frenchman Jean-Michel Bracquet and Australian David Wilson—were held hostage for at least two months, then taken into the woods and shot.

Nuon Paet was sentenced to life in prison last spring for ordering their killings. After his trial, court officials announced they planned to bring charges against at least two others: Chhouk Rin, the man who allegedly led the raid, and Sam Bith, Nuon Paet’s commander at the time. Chhouk Rin was arrested last week, but Sam Bith remains at large.

Mong Mony Chariya, the investigative judge on the case, said in his Phnom Penh office that Sam Bith has failed to respond to a summons for questioning that expired 6 pm Wed­nesday.

“Now I will follow the legal procedure,” he said. “But I could not tell you at this time what I will do in the future because it could affect the investigative procedure.”

Commanders of Battambang-based Military Region 5 said Wednesday that they had not received any orders to arrest Sam Bith, who associates say had been staying in Sdao, some 30 km from the provincial capital.

Nheim Kong said he spoke with the wanted general earlier this week. He said Sam Bith left for Phnom Penh with his wife and a driver Sunday “to tell the public about the Nuon Paet case,” he said.

Former Khmer Rouge soldiers interviewed last spring in Kampong Trach district, where the train ambush occurred, said Nuon Paet was ordered to execute the backpackers by Sam Bith. But they also claimed that Sam Bith received the order from unnamed rebel superiors in other regions of the country.

(Reporting in Battambang by Saing Soenthrith and Kelly McEvers; in Phnom Penh by Phann Ana and Adam Piore)


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