The Cambodian government has decided to appeal the not guilty verdict in the Chhouk Rin case after being criticized by the governments of the Western victims in the 1994 train ambush, officials announced Thursday.
“We welcome the quick action that has been taken,” said Paul Grigson, Australia’s charge d’affaire, after a 20-minute meeting with Uch Kim An, secretary of state at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Grigson, British Ambassador George Edgar and French Ambassador Andre Jean-Libourel met with Uch Kim An, who informed the embassy representatives of the government’s decision to appeal. Grigson also met with Justice Minister Uk Vithun.
Municipal court judge Thong Ol on Tuesday decided that Chhouk Rin, a former Khmer Rouge commander, could not be found guilty of charges related to a train attack that led to the deaths of Australian David Wilson, Frenchman Jean-Michel Braquet and Briton Marc Slater.
The judge cited a provision passed by parliament just a few weeks before the train attack occurred. The law said rebel members who defected within six months of the law’s passage were granted immunity from prosecution for crimes committed during their years with the Khmer Rouge.
Chhouk Rin defected to the government in October 1994 and became a colonel in Cambodia’s army.
He was arrested in January this year for his alleged involvement in the train attack.
Thong Ol could not be reached for comment after the decision to appeal was announced, but he told Deutsche Presse-Agentur earlier that his verdict was based on the law.
Put Theavy, Chhouk Rin’s lawyer, blasted the decision to appeal the case, saying Cambodian officials were bowing to international pressure. “This means the National Assembly does not need to pass laws anymore because the government doesn’t respect the law,” he said. “The government just respects foreigners. The National Assembly passes laws for Cambodians, not for foreigners.”
Yet Chakriya, the prosecutor in the Chhouk Rin case, said he filed the appeal Thursday morning and it would be up to the appeals court to decide whether they want to rearrest Chhouk Rin.
Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said Wednesday his government would formally protest the Chhouk Rin verdict.
The French Embassy said they hoped the Cambodian authorities would appeal the decision, while the British government said it would make “representations.”
“We appreciate the Cambodian government’s decision,” Libourel said.
“We were informed that the use of the 1994 law was inaccurate.”
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who was finance minister in 1994 and participated in the National Assembly debate on the law, said Thong Ol misinterpreted the immunity provision, as it granted amnesty for crimes committed before the law was passed.
William Wodrow, a lawyer for the Wilson family, said on the surface, the decision to appeal seems like a good idea.
“But I think that the government has probably had advice that in any event, they’ll reach the same result,” Wodrow said. “I think the whole trial should be aborted and that a fresh trial should be commenced.”
Khieu Kanharith, a government spokesman, said the same verdict will likely be rendered in the appeals court.
“It will be hard to appeal unless people decide to nullify the  law,” he said.
Yim Sary, a lawyer for the Braquet family who helped prosecute Chhouk Rin, said Chhouk Rin should not have been freed until the appeals process was finished. “Chhouk Rin should stay in jail until the Supreme Court makes a decision on his case.”
Nop Sophon, deputy director of municipal court, said he welcomed the appeal so the victims’ families will be satisfied. “Let them do it,” he said.
“If only the municipal court handles this, people will accuse us of doing something wrong. So let the victims’ families find justice.”
(Additional reporting by Alex Devine and Thet Sambath)