Claims by former rebel commander Sam Bith that he was in a Thai hospital when his Khmer Rouge troops attacked a train and killed three Western backpackers in Kampot province in 1994 was seriously undermined on Friday by prosecution claims that his hospital records were forged.
The daylong trial reached high drama with the presentation of a letter from the Thai hospital stating Sam Bith was not a patient in 1994 and a recommendation from the prosecuting judge that Sam Bith spend 20 years to life in prison for the train attack.
Sam Bith, 69, is the most senior of three former Khmer Rouge commanders to stand trial for the train attack that killed 13 Cambodians and led to the kidnap and execution of Australian David Wilson, 29, Briton Mark Slater, 28, and French citizen Jean-Michel Braquet, 27.
As Khmer Rouge Regional Commander for Kampot, Sam Bith is facing charges of murder, kidnapping, robbery, terrorism and destroying public property for the 1994 attack.
“We have found out that there was nobody by the name of Sam Bith in the hospital,” Prosecutor Yet Chakriya told the courtroom.
“Sam Bith was not in hospital,” said Yet Chakriya holding the hospital document—obtained with the assistance of the British Embassy in Bangkok—aloft.
Presiding Judge Sok Sethamony said that almost a dozen defense witnesses claimed that Sam Bith went for medical treatment in Thailand from July to October 1994, the period during which the train attack took place and the three hostages were killed.
“[But] the hospital in Thailand which made the statement says it only opened in November 1994,” Sok Sethamony told the court.
Sam Bith had staked his innocence on his Thai hospital records which the prosecution claimed were forged.
Around 10 former Khmer Rouge soldiers and bodyguards from Sam Bith’s former base area in Kampot took the stand to testify that their former chief was in northwestern Samlot and then in Thailand when the train was ambushed.
Star Khmer Rouge witness “Brother No 2” Nuon Chea also testified in court that Sam Bith had been summoned to Samlot in early June and relived of his command.
Nuon Chea said he did not know who gave the orders to attack the train and kill the hostages.
“Sam Bith was in Samlot…until October 5 because he was going to the hospital in Thailand,” Nuon Chea said.
“Pol Pot directly controlled Sam Bith’s region,” said 77-year-old Nuon Chea who sat for the first 90 minutes of his court appearance, before retiring to a reclined lawnchair to lie out the last hour before the trial adjourned for lunch.
But, it was the testimony of Nuon Paet—Sam Bith’s former military underling in Kampot province—that boosted the prosecutions case.
Nuon Paet said he had two meetings with Sam Bith in Kampot province, before and after the fall of the Phnom Voar rebel base to government troops who made a botched attempt to rescue the hostages.
“When we lost the fighting in Phnom Voar we stayed together for a long time. [Sam Bith] went to hospital [in Thailand], I went too. But it was a couple of months later in 1995,” Nuon Paet told the court.
Wrapping up the case on Friday, Judge Sok Sethamony allowed the final say to Sam Bith who pleaded for leniency from the court. “I am ailing. I cannot last long,” Sam Bith told the court.
“I will died in another five years, or less than that.”
The verdict will be announced on Dec 23, Sok Sethamony said.
“Hopefully he’ll get life, like he deserves,” Dorothy Slater, the mother of Mark Slater said as the court officials made their final comments.