Missing Britain was killed on order of Pol Pot

Click to follow
The Independent Online
A BRITISH mine-clearance expert kidnapped two years ago in Cambodia was murdered three days after his disappearance - reportedly on the orders of the former Khmer Rouge leader, Pol Pot.

Scotland Yard detectives who had been in Cambodia since April this year trying to trace Christopher Howes, 37, have found evidence of his murder, the Foreign Office said yesterday. The detectives found the evidence at the murder scene at Anlong Veng, a former Khmer Rouge jungle stronghold.

Mr Howes, a former soldier, was working for the British charity the Mines Advisory Group, when he was captured by the Khmer Rouge on 26 March, 1996 with his Cambodian interpreter and 27 local volunteers at the village of Preah Ko, near the temples of Angkor Wat.

News that he had been killed was broken by telephone to his parents, Roy and Betty, at their home near Bristol, by the head of counter-terrorism.

Mr Howes said: "It was news we hoped would never happen. We had hoped that he would come out.

"We are enormously shocked and saddened, but we are very proud of our son and his remarkable bravery and honour in not leaving his people."

He was referring to his son's decision not to accept the offer of freedom made by his kidnappers, but to remain in captivity with his Cambodian interpreter, Houn Hourth. Foreign Office minister Baroness Symons said: "We have been in close touch with Christopher's family throughout their long ordeal.

"Together we have feared the worst for some time. Today's news is most distressing.

"Christopher Howes was working selflessly in Cambodia to save lives by clearing mines when he was taken. The example he set was a shining one to us all. My deepest sympathy and that of the whole FCO goes to Roy, Betty, Pat and all of Christopher's family."

The missing years of Mr Howes were marked by a consistent lack of hard information on his whereabouts.

Early reports said his courage was evident at the moment of his capture. He and his team of mine-clearers were surrounded by guerrillas armed with rocket-launchers and machine-guns.

They were apparently seeking a ransom and let everyone leave after Mr Howes volunteered to stay behind with Houn Hourth.

Days later, local villagers reported he was alive and well but being held captive in a hill camp. It was said he had refused an offer of freedom because he did not want to abandon his Cambodian colleagues.

By April 1996 detectives made the first of a series of trips to Cambodia to start their search for the missing man and in July a Khmer Rouge guerrilla, Cheap Vichit, was jailed for five years after admitting planning the kidnap operation.

The Khmer Rouge later that year denied reports in the Bangkok Post that they had killed him. The newspaper said that Mr Howes had been killed and that Houn Hourth had died from malaria.

Mr Howes's parents had only rumour and counter-rumour as evidence of some activity in the dense jungle of northern Cambodia where he was thought to be hidden by his Khmer Rouge captors.

In November 1996 they travelled to London after senior Cambodian army officers claimed Mr Howes had eluded his captors. He was expected to be in Phnom Penh in days. But he never turned up.

These uncertain sources served only to fuel media speculation and to spark brief flurries of renewed diplomatic effort.

In April this year his employers, the Mines Advisory Group paid a pounds 75,000 ransom, against Foreign Office advice, to a man claiming to be an intermediary. But again Mr Howes failed to appear.

In August last year King Sihanouk said he believed the Briton was dead. As there was never any reliable evidence about his fate, his family continued to hope that he might be alive.

Mr Howes asked that he and his wife should be allowed privacy to grieve alone.

He said that he had telephoned his daughter, Pat, a local-government officer in Wakefield, to give her the news: "I was very upset and so was she.We are trying to be normal but it is not a normal situation. We have got to be brave for our son."