Nuon Paet’s Life Sentence Is Upheld

An appeals court Wednesday upheld a municipal court decision to sentence former Khmer Rouge commander Nuon Paet to life in prison for the 1994 train attack that led to the deaths of three Western backpackers.

Appeals Court Judge Sam Rith Sophal said the three-member panel did not agree with Nuon Paet’s testimony that he should be set free because he was not involved in the train attack.

During his appeals hearing two weeks ago, Nuon Paet argued that he had no knowledge of Khmer Rouge military affairs and was in charge only of administration at the Khmer Rouge stronghold of Phnom Voar.

“We do not support his claim,” Sam Rith Sophal said Wednes­day. “Even though he is in charge of the administration, he must be responsible for [the train attack]. Ac­cor­ding to Khmer Rouge policy, every important act is carried out based on what the leaders say. Even though the defendant did not join the attack, he must be responsible for the killing of the three backpackers.”

Nuon Paet, the only Khmer Rouge commander in prison for the train ambush, was present during the appeals hearing, but not when the verdict was announced.

One of his lawyers, Put Theavy, said the appeals ruling is unfair because during the appeals trial, prosecutor Nhuong Thol dropped the charge of illegally forming armed forces—one of the six charges of which Nuon Paet was convicted in a June 1999 trial. Therefore, the sentence should have been reduced, Put Theavy said.

“It is unjust,” Put Theavy said. “I will appeal to the Supreme Court.”

Nuon Paet had also been convicted of terrorism, robbery, destruction of public property, illegally detaining people and conspiracy to murder.

Sam Rith Sophal said the judges panel didn’t agree with the prosecutor’s decision to drop the illegally forming armed forces charge.

The appeals court also denied requests from the victims’ families to award them $50,000 each in compensation.

Jean-Michel Braquet of France, Briton Marc Slater and Australian David Wilson, all in their late 20s, were held for more than two months at Phnom Voar before they were murdered. At least 10 Cambodians were also killed in the train attack.

British Ambassador George Edgar said he was disappointed that the court declined to award compensation to the victims’ families, but he was pleased that the life sentence for Nuon Paet was upheld.

“We’ve said throughout that we wanted all those involved to be brought to justice,” Edgar said.

Australian embassy officials echoed Edgar’s sentiments, saying they hope the government will continue its efforts to have all those responsible answer for their crime.

“What we will do now is continue our efforts in supporting the Wilson family,” Australian Ambassador Louise Hand

Two other former Khmer Rouge commanders linked to the train ambush remain free. In July a municipal court judge decided Chhouk Rin, who became a colonel in the government army when he defected 10 weeks after the attack, could not be held responsible for his alleged involvement in the ambush.

The judge cited a 1994 law that gave rebels who defected to the government within six months of the legislation’s passage amnesty for crimes committed during their years with the Khmer Rouge. The government is appealing that decision.

Sam Bith, now a two-star general in the government army, was called for questioning in January, but failed to show up. Both Sam Bith and Chhouk Rin testified against Nuon Paet, who did not defect, in his trial last year.

An arrest warrant had been issued for Sam Bith, but it was withdrawn because the court said it didn’t have enough evidence to seek him.

Pa Po, one of about 60 Nuon Paet supporters who came from Phnom Voar to hear the appeals verdict, said Nuon Paet should not be the only one held responsible for the train attack.

“If they only arrest him and have a trial for him, we absolutely disagree and we will rebel,” he said. “If they want to have a trial, they should call all the Khmer Rouge leaders.”

Sam Ann, another Nuon Paet supporter, questioned why Nuon Paet was arrested when witnesses said others were responsible.

“We already told them that the killer is Sam Bith,” he said. “Why not arrest him?”




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