The key investigator of the 1994 abduction and slaying of three Western backpackers said Thursday the case is closing in on former Khmer Rouge guerrillas Sam Bith and Chhouk Rin.
“The investigation will finish very soon” and arrests likely are imminent, said Phnom Penh Municipal Court investigating judge Mong Mony Chakriya.
The two former rebels, who in recent years defected to take up posts in RCAF were charged in June after the conviction of Nuon Paet, who ordered the killings.
Rebels under Nuon Paet’s command in July 1994 abducted Australian David Wilson, Briton Mark Slater and Frenchman Jean-Michel Braquet after ambushing a train the tourists rode and killing at least 13 Cambodians.
Nuon Paet ordered the trio’s execution two months later when efforts to negotiate with the rebels failed, the Military Court ruled earlier this year.
The 1994 incident captured worldwide headlines and led to a major government offensive against the remaining Khmer Rouge structure in the southern province of Kampot.
Nuon Paet was found guilty in June and sentenced to life in prison. The Council of Ministers waived immunity for Sam Bith and Chhouk Rin, who previously has admitted to leading the raid.
Testifying in the trial, Sam Bith placed blame for the executions on Nuon Paet.
But after the trial, Sam Bith and Chhouk Rin were charged with similar counts of murder, kidnapping, leading armed forces, theft and destruction of state and private property, Mong Mony Chakriya said.
Mong Mony Chakriya noted that since the charges were filed, the investigation has proceeded “smoothly” and many witnesses have given testimonies.
Still unclear is whether Sam Bith and Chhouk Rin will flee if warrants are issued for their arrests, he said.
Chhouk Rin lives in the village of Chanka Bey in Kep municipality. Sam Bith, who operated in the area of Samlot in Battambang province as a rebel for years, has not been seen publicly since he testified in Nuon Paet’s trial.
When filed, the charges raised questions about the government’s previous policy to tread lightly with former Khmer Rouge leaders. Government leaders have warned that arresting more offenders in the backpacker case could incite renewed violence between government forces and former guerrillas.