Fourteen former Khmer Rouge leaders, including “Brother No 2” Nuon Chea, have agreed to vouch for detained former commander Sam Bith, thumbprinting a statement that claims he was in the hospital when 16 people were killed in a train ambush in Kampot province in 1994.
Sam Bith has been charged with conspiracy to murder for his alleged involvement in the killings. He is currently being held in Prey Sar prison. No trial has been scheduled.
“I have given my thumbprint to verify that he was staying in the hospital in Samlot on July 14, 1994,” Nuon Chea said last week. Samlot district, the birthplace of the Khmer Rouge, is in Battambang province.
“I don’t know when the train was ambushed and the foreigners were taken, but I know that on July 14, 1994, he was in the hospital,” Nuon Chea added. “This is the truth.”
The train ambush, in which 13 Cambodians and three foreign travelers were taken off a train and later killed, occurred on July 24, 1994, in the Phnom Voar area of Kampot, where Sam Bith was military commander.
In 1999, Khmer Rouge leader Nuon Paet was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the killings.
Nuon Chea and others argue that Sam Bith’s presence in the hospital over a week before the killings took place proves he had already left his post in Phnom Voar. They say Sam Bith had been dismissed by Pol Pot in early July.
“He was withdrawn from power as a leader in Phnom Voar by Pol Pot. He left there for Samlot, to live with me and get medical treatment,” Sam Bith’s wife, Khim Ry, said Friday. “He had no power anymore.” She said Sam Bith needed medical attention because he was sick, but did not name the illness.
In addition to the 14 high-ranking Khmer Rouge leaders, whose full names she did not give, Khim Ry said at least 100 ordinary Khmer Rouge soldiers and devotees thumbprinted the statement.
Khim Ry said she collected the thumbprints personally out of devotion to her husband. “It is hard work to get from one place to another to get thumbprints. But for justice for my husband, I had to try,” she said.
Sam Bith’s lawyer Kar Savuth said Sunday he had received the witnesses’ thumbprints, including Nuon Chea’s.
Pailin Governor Y Chhien, a former Khmer Rouge commander, has also agreed to give his thumbprint, according to a relative of Sam Bith.