Four former Khmer Rouge fighters have been sentenced to jail for their involvement in the notorious murder of a British mines-clearance expert in Cambodia.
A court in Phnom Penh today found the men guilty of premeditated murder and kidnapping over the killing of Christopher Howes and his translator, Houn Hourth, in 1996. Three of the men were sentenced to 20 years and a fourth to 10 years imprisonment. A fifth defendant was acquitted.
Mr Howes, originally from Bristol, had been working with the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) to help clear hundreds of thousands of mines and other ordnance that still litter Cambodia's countryside after decades of conflict. He was seized by Khmer Rouge fighters close to the famed Angkor Wat temple complex, killed and his body then doused with diesel and cremated. His remains were not discovered for two years. His translator was likewise killed.
The convictions follow more than a decade of investigation by the Cambodian authorities and Scotland Yard detectives. During the investigation it emerged that Mr Howes, 37, a former soldier, had been given the chance to secure his own freedom by collecting a ransom for other MAG employees seized by the militants. Instead he refused to leave them and more than 30 of his colleagues were subsequently released.
Last night, Mr Howes' family and colleagues said they were pleased the wait for justice was over. “We never sought revenge but we're pleased the murderers of Christopher and Houn have been brought into account,” said his sister, Patricia Phillips. His 85-year-old father, Roy, said: “I'm delighted. They are wicked men - the very worst. I hope they never come out, I hope we will never see them again.”
While the court convicted four men - Khem Ngun, Loch Mao, Put Lim and Sin Dorn - some uncertainty may remain about precisely who carried out the killings of the two mine clearance workers. Three of the five defendants testified that two other Khmer Rouge guerrillas - now believed to be dead - were responsible for the murders and that a Khmer Rouge commander called Khem Tem ordered the shooting. Put Lim, who was the driver of Khem Ngun, said the verdict was unjust. “I have not committed the killing of the two men,” he told reporters.
But MAG's chief executive, Lou McGrath, said he believed justice had been done. “For over twelve years the families of our colleagues have been fighting for this verdict and we are all extremely satisfied with today's outcome,” he added.
The Maoist-inspired Khmer Rouge seized power in 1975 and ruled for four brutal years during which up to a third of the population were either killed or died from starvation and disease. By the mid-1990s the last remnants of the organisation was fighting for survival in the west of the country. A number of senior Khmer Rouge soldiers and officials later joined subsequent Cambodian governments.