Khmer Rouge “Brother No 2 ” Nuon Chea may appear as a defense witness at today’s scheduled trial of Sam Bith, the most senior of three former Khmer Rouge commanders implicated in the kidnapping and execution of three Western tourists in Kampot province in 1994, an attorney and a court official said Wednesday.
Former Kampot regional commander Sam Bith, 69, was apprehended in May on a long-standing arrest warrant issued for his alleged involvement in the killing of Australian David Wilson, 29, Briton Mark Slater, 28, and Frenchman Jean-Michel Braquet, 27.
The arrest prompted more than 100 former rebels in northwestern Cambodia, including Nuon Chea—the one-time ideological head of the Khmer Rouge and confidant of leader Pol Pot—to issue a statement claiming Sam Bith was innocent.
Sam Bith’s former comrades said they would vouch that on July 14, 1994—10 days prior to the attack—Sam Bith was bedridden at a Khmer Rouge hospital in Cambodia’s northwestern district of Samlot.
“The court [invitation] letter has been sent to Nuon Chea, but I don’t know if he will come to the court or not. But, he did receive a letter,” Sam Bith’s lawyer Kar Savuth said on Wednesday.
A Phnom Penh Municipal Court clerk said on the condition of anonymity Wednesday that Nuon Chea is expected to take the witnesses stand.
Kar Savuth said he did not know how many witnesses will appear in court on behalf of Sam Bith, as it was their individual right to appear.
“But we have enough evidence and witnesses to solve this,” Kar Savuth said. “I hope that my client will be exonerated.”
Wilson, Slater and Braquet were traveling by train through Kampot province to Sihanoukville when Khmer Rouge forces from the Phnom Voar guerrilla base detonated two mines under the rails and slammed the engine with automatic weapons fire and B-40 rocket-propelled grenades.
Thirteen Cambodians were killed in the attack. The three backpackers were killed months later when ransom negotiations for their release broke down and government troops overran the area.
Following three years of appeal attempts, Nuon Paet—the former chief of the Phnom Voar rebel base—was sentenced in September by the Supreme Court to life in prison for the killings.
On the same day, Chhouk Rin—a former deputy rebel commander on Phnom Voar—was sentenced to life in prison by the Phnom Penh Appeals Court.
Chhouk Rin is currently mounting a legal challenge to the ruling.
(Additional reporting Phann Ana)