Backpackers' deaths: Ex-Khmer Rouge chief arrested

A former Khmer Rouge military commander was arrested today for the 1994 abduction and murder of three Western backpackers in southern Cambodia.

A former Khmer Rouge military commander was arrested today for the 1994 abduction and murder of three Western backpackers in southern Cambodia.

Major General Sam Bith was arrested in the northwest province of Battambang, Major General Sok Phal of the Interior Ministry said.

He said Sam Bith was arrested in the town of Sdao, about 150 miles northwest of Phnom Penh, ‘‘on charges of killing the foreigners’’.

He said Sam Bith, who became a government adviser after defecting in 1996, had been implicated by his former Khmer Rouge deputy, Nuon Paet.

Mark Slater from Corby, in Britain, David Wilson from Australia and Jean-Michel Braquet from France were killed after being abducted during an ambush on a train on July 26, 1994.

Nuon Paet is serving a life sentence after guerillas under his command attacked the train, which was carrying the three backpackers from Phnom Penh to the coastal town of Sihanoukville.

The guerrillas demanded €157,000 in exchange for the hostages.

After three months of fruitless negotiations with the Cambodian government, the Khmer Rouge killed their captives.

In letters to the victims’ families, Nuon Paet has accused Sam Bith of ordering the hostages’ executions.

The Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia from 1975-79 and are blamed for the deaths of 1.7 million people due to disease, starvation, over-work and execution.

The regime’s leader, Pol Pot, died in 1998 but most of his top lieutenants still live freely in Cambodia.

Five years of negotiations between the UN and the government to set up a joint tribunal have reached an impasse.

But Prime Minister Hun Sen has pledged to move ahead with plans for the trial without the world body’s assistance.

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