dang tong district, Kampot province – Some 100 people gathered around three symbolic graves Thursday for a ceremony marking the 1994 murders of three Western backpackers caught in a Khmer Rouge train ambush and later killed in this dusty corner of Kampot.
The villagers covered the ground in Sre Chea Khang Cheung commune’s Khnach Prey village with colorful cloths and lit incense in a ceremony that coincided with the arrival of nine statues of Buddha at a newly-built pagoda nearby.
Around 13 Cambodians were killed in the 1994 ambush and the three backpackers—Briton Mark Slater, 28, Frenchman Jean-Michel Braquet, 27, and Australian David Wilson, 29—were taken prisoner and executed in the following months by the Khmer Rouge.
“We took the time to commemorate those killed during the Khmer Rouge time and the three backpackers,” said Chin Chanratana, project manager for the Phnom Voar Development Community, a local NGO that organized the event.
Keo Ngov, 58, who was among those in attendance, recalled cooking for the three captives whom she remembers as being “friendly.” At first, they didn’t have a taste for rice and shared food and precious cigarettes with each other, she said. “I don’t know why they were killed,” Keo Ngov added.
“I wish for their souls to live in a higher place,” Non Pon, a 62-year-old farmer, said after the ceremony.
Speaking at the event, British Vice Consul Julia Shand referred to the upcoming tribunal for former Khmer Rouge leaders, delayed last month when the Cambodian and international legal teams failed to agree on crucial procedural rules.
“It is important to remember the past and the crimes that were committed, and it is equally important to look to the future,” she said. “We hope that the government quickly agrees on the rules to get the [Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia] really started.”
Three former Khmer Rouge commanders—Sam Bith, Nuon Paet and Chhouk Rin—were sentenced to life in prison for their involvement with the ambush and murders.