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Friday, October 03, 2008

Five former KRouge claim innocence in trial for killing Briton

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — Five former Khmer Rouge fighters told a Cambodian court Friday they were innocent of the 1996 kidnapping and killing of a British mine clearer and his translator.

The former guerrillas appeared in blue prison uniforms at Phnom Penh Municipal Court to answer charges of premeditated murder and illegal confinement, and could face life in prison if convicted.

They stand accused of shooting Christopher Howes and translator Huon Huot a few days after seizing the pair and other members of their mine clearance team near the famed Angkor Wat temples in northwest Cambodia.

All five suspects -- Khem Ngun, Puth Lim, Sin Dorn, Loch Mao, and Cheap Chet -- were arrested over the past year, nearly a decade after a joint investigation into the incident by British and Cambodian police.

Khem Ngun, who served under notorious Khmer Rouge commander Ta Mok, was allegedly the one who ordered the fighters under his control to shoot Howes and Huon Huot.

But Khem Ngun claimed the order to kill the prisoners came from deceased Khmer Rouge commander Khem Tem and was carried out by a soldier named Rin.

"Another Khmer Rouge soldier close to Ta Mok ordered the shooting of Howes in the head, and then I turned my face away and felt shock," Khem Ngun told the court.

Khem Ngun was serving as a major general in the Cambodian military when he was arrested in November last year. The other suspects had become civil servants.

At the time of the killings, the communist Khmer Rouge were battling government troops in the final years of Cambodia's drawn-out civil war.

Howes, 37, refused a chance to leave his kidnapped team of 20 mine clearers from the Britain-based Mines Advisory Group to retrieve a ransom.

While the rest of the team was eventually released, Howes and Huon Huot were taken deeper into rebel-held territory and killed.

Their remains were found in 1998, the same year Cambodia's civil war ended when the Khmer Rouge movement disintegrated.

The verdict would be announced October 14, said presiding judge Iu Kim Sri.

Cambodia is littered with millions of land mines and other unexploded ordnance from nearly three decades of conflict.
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Cambodian, Thai troops said hurt in border clash

Thai black clad soldiers is in a full force invading Cambodia at Preah Vihea Temple. The Notorious criminals are always trying to kill Cambodian citizens.

By SOPHENG CHEANG

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Soldiers from both Cambodia and Thailand were wounded Friday in a brief clash along their volatile border, officials from the two countries said.

Cambodian Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said a Cambodian soldier was slightly wounded when Thai troops fired a grenade from their territory. He said Cambodian troops returned fire, with the "military incident" lasting less than a minute.

Thai officials initially denied knowledge of the incident, but a Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman later said Cambodian troops had encroached on Thai territory and had been the first to fire, wounding two Thai troops.

Tensions along the normally peaceful border between Cambodia and Thailand flared on July 15 after UNESCO, the U.N. cultural agency, approved Cambodia's application to have a disputed 11th century temple named a World Heritage Site. Friday's clash took place about two miles west of the temple, Preah Vihear.

A spokesman for Cambodia's Cabinet, Phay Siphan, said the incident began after Cambodian troops intercepted a trespassing Thai patrol. He said the Thai troops retreated in response to a warning from the Cambodians, but then fired the grenade.

Cambodian troops returned fire with AK-47 assault rifles, with the exchange of fire lasting three to five minutes, he said.

Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Tharit Charungvat said Friday evening that the Thai troops had been patrolling in their own territory when they encountered the Cambodian soldiers.

"The Cambodian troops shot at the Thai troops first, wounding two soldiers. One Cambodian soldier was also wounded after the Thais responded," he said.

Lt. Gen. Wiboonsak Ngeepan, the regional army commander for northeastern Thailand, said it was unclear if the Cambodians intruded intentionally or had strayed into Thailand because "the area is dense forest."

Both countries have long claimed Preah Vihear, but the World Court awarded it to Cambodia in 1962.

After UNESCO approved the temple's listing as a World Heritage Site, Thailand sent troops to occupy the nearby Keo Sikha Kiri Svara pagoda, also claimed by Cambodia.

Cambodia responded with its own troop deployment. The two sides came close to a shootout on July 17 when Cambodian monks sought to celebrate Buddhist lent in the pagoda.

Troops on both sides raised their weapons, but no shots were fired, and the Cambodians eventually backed down.

Since then there has been a limited troop withdrawal from the area, and talks have been held several times on resolving the conflicting claims, but without much progress.

Before Friday's clash was reported, Thai Deputy Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh told reporters that he and Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat would travel to Cambodia on Oct. 13 to discuss the border issue with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.

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Pol Pot ordered murder of British mine-clearer, court told

Trial hears Khmer Rouge leader had blanket policy to murder foreigners on grounds they supported the government

British mine-clearing expert who was murdered in Cambodia and his remains burned to hide the evidence was killed on the orders of the Khmer Rouge leader, Pol Pot, a court heard today.

The trial of five former Khmer Rouge cadres accused of the kidnap and murder of Christopher Howes, 37, more than 12 years ago, heard that the communist leader had a blanket policy to murder foreigners on the grounds that they supported the Cambodian government.

Howes was shot within days of his capture while leading a mine-clearance team north of Siem Reap - home to the Angkor Wat temple complex - after his abductors lulled him into a false sense of security by laying out a sleeping mattress for the night and giving him fruit.

His interpreter, Huon Houth, who was among the 30-strong team from British-based Mines Advisory Group (MAG), was murdered a day earlier when his captors deemed him "no longer necessary" because one of the alleged killers spoke English.

The disappearance of the former British army engineer from Backwell, near Bristol, and Hourth remained a mystery for more than two years as Cambodia's civil war ground on in its death throes.

Investigations by a Scotland Yard team working with the Cambodian police eventually unravelled Howes' fate, declaring he was murdered after forensic tests on bone fragments found in a fire.

The evidence collected from witness statements in the two years after Howes' disappearance was presented at the Phnom Penh court today by former Metropolitan police anti-terrorism officer, Mike Dickson, now an advisor to the UN-backed Khmer Rouge genocide tribunal.

The men in the dock had lived freely in the Khmer Rouge stronghold of Anlong Veng until their arrest a year ago despite suspicions of their involvement in the killings. A deal to end the civil war in 1998 pardoned many Khmer Rouge cadres.

One of the accused, Khem Ngoun, 59, the former chief-of-staff of the one-legged Khmer Rouge army commander, Ta Mok, was a brigadier-general in the Cambodian army until his arrest.

Along with the others, Loch Mao, 54, a Khmer Rouge officer who became a civil servant, Cheath Chet, 34, Puth Lim, 58, and Sin Dorn, 52, the frail Ngoun faces life imprisonment for murder and illegal detention when the investigating judge, Iv Kimsry, delivers his verdict in 10 days' time.

In a marathon session the court heard today of the chilling last days of Howes and Hourth after their abduction on March 26 1996. Some of the de-mining team escaped almost immediately while all the others were released after Howes declined to abandon his staff to fetch ransom money.

Howes and Hourth were taken towards Anlong Veng. But in an interview with the British detectives, Khieu Sampan, the Khmer Rouge's nominal head of state, said that Hourth was killed in Kul village after Ngoun said the interpreter was unnecessary.

Howes was held in a school where Ngoun interrogated him, before he was taken out into the countryside to a road near the house of Mok, who passed the order to "solve the problem" and kill him.

Howes was taken in a white Toyota pickup truck driven by Lim, accompanied by four guards including Ngoun, Mao, and two others, Khem Tem and Soeun Rim, who subsequently died. In a statement to police before his death, Rim said Mao killed Howes with two bullets from an AK-59 rifle provided by Ngoun.

Both Ngoun and Mao changed earlier statements they made and maintained only Rim, who died in 2004, fired the fatal shots. Mao is adamant his weapon jammed and he could not fire.

All the accused argued they acted on orders of the Khmer Rouge's brutal "brother number one" and that failure to do so would have meant certain death.

But Lou McGrath, MAG chief executive who was present at the hearing, dismissed the defence.

"It's good to see this trial," he said. "But I think the defence that if you don't kill others you will be killed yourself is what leads to genocide. It's no excuse and I hope the judge decides that they will feel the full weight of the law."
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