Remembering Christopher Howes
14 October 2008: Three former Khmer Rouge cadre were jailed for 20 years for the murder of Christopher Howes and another for ten years for the abduction of his de-mining team, in a Phnom Penh court today. Khem Nguon, Loch Mao and Puth Lim were all found guilty of premeditated murder and received the maximum sentence for their crime. Sin Dorn was found to have been involved in the kidnapping, whilst a fifth defendant, Chep Cheat was acquitted of kidnap.
It's been more than twelve years since British de-miner Christopher Howes and his interpreter Houn Hourth were captured and murdered by Khmer Rouge forces under the command of Ta Mok, the ruthless one-legged guerrilla commander who died in 2006. Christopher was a landmine specialist working for the Mines Advisory Group a few miles north of Siem Reap in the village of Preah Ko when he and his twenty-strong de-mining unit were abducted at gunpoint by Khmer Rouge cadre in March 1996. Told to return to his base for ransom money, Christopher selflessly refused so he could remain with his team and negotiate their safety. Instead the guerrillas released his team but kept the Bristol-born former Royal Engineer hostage for a few more days before he was murdered. However, his fate remained a mystery for more than two years until evidence emerged in May 1998 that he was taken to Anlong Veng and shot on the orders of Ta Mok and his deputy.
Throughout those two years, numerous stories emerged to suggest Christopher was still alive. These included declarations from First Prime Minister Norodom Ranariddh that he'd escaped and was on his way to freedom, and that photos proved he was alive and well or that the soldier-turned-deminer was being forced to teach the guerrillas how to make their own mines. He was reported to be suffering from malaria and chronic diarrhea and in November 1996 his employers, MAG, reportedly paid $120,000 to a man who claimed he could gain his release but then vanished with most of the money. Each story turned out to be a cruel fabrication until May 1998, when Scotland Yard detectives recovered ashes from the site where Christopher's body had been cremated. His was not the only death around that time - between the period 1994 to 1998 the Khmer Rouge abducted and killed at least ten foreign tourists.
Christopher had served with the Royal Engineers for seven years prior to his three year association with MAG, initially in northern Iraq and then in Cambodia for five months before his abduction. An acknowledgement of his humanitarian work and bravery in negotiating the release of his men was honoured with the naming of a Phnom Penh street after him and the posthumous award of the Queen's Gallantry Medal in 2001. A memorial service was held in his home village of Backwell near Bristol in July 1998, once his parents had received confirmation of Christopher's death from Scotland Yard and Foreign Office officials. At the service, Rae McGrath, founder of MAG, said: "Having known Chris as a friend and as a colleague I cannot find it within me to mourn. I will celebrate a heroic friend, a deminer who put into practice his engineering skills to make this world a better place and who, at the cost of his life, showed his love to and loyalty for his fellow men."
In November 2007, more than eleven years after the disappearance of Christopher Howes and Houn Hourth, three men were arrested and charged with their abduction and murder, with two further suspects arrested in May 2008. Today, justice for the families of the deceased men has been served.
Below are a series of media and press reports about the abduction and its aftermath. They provide an insight into the rumours, lies, alleged sightings and false alarms that hid the real truth behind the disappearance of Christopher Howes in March 1996
March 1996: Kidnapped (Asiaweek.com)
Christopher Howes, 36, a mine-clearing expert from England; by former Khmer Rouge defectors; along with 26 Cambodians, all but one of whom were subsequently released; in northern Cambodia March 26. Howes reportedly refused to act as a courier on behalf of the guerrillas and collect ransom. The guerrillas released all the Cambodians and kept Howes and his translator. The group was working for the British-based Mines Advisory Group while clearing a roadside of mines.
2 April 1996: British hostage put staff ahead of himself - by Matthew Grainger (Phnom Penh Post)
British demining specialist Chris Howes - at press time on April 2 in his seventh day as a hostage to armed men, at an unknown location - was "brave" in refusing a conditional offer of freedom, says his boss, Mines Advisory Group country director, Archie McCarron. Howes was kidnapped on March 26 around 9am with 26 Cambodian deminers in a village north of Siem Reap. Howes was told later that same day he could leave to bring back an as-yet unknown ransom, in exchange for ten Khmer deminers the kidnappers would have kept. This was dependant on local police and militia not becoming involved. "Chris could not obviously ensure the continued welfare of his team had he left," McCarron said. "He made a decision for the welfare of his team that he should stay." While Howes and his interpreter Houn Hoerth stayed, the rest of the deminers, by 2pm on the first day, had been freed unharmed. McCarron, acknowledging Howes was "brave", also said: "MAG specialists are responsible for the safety of the team members and their welfare. They build up a rapport with the team, and a sense of camaraderie where each member supports the other. Specialists are an integral part of this ethos," McCarron said.
Howes, who came to Cambodia in November last year, has worked for some years at MAG - his mission before Cambodia was in Kurdistan - and before that as an engineer in the British Army. His father was quoted on BBC television saying that Howes was trained for such circumstances, and would cope well. McCarron said Howes was a "boisterous character socially," but "workwise was stable, experienced and a fairly cool character." Howes and Hoerth appear to have fallen into the hands of a group that were Khmer Rouge, who defected to the Government and later sent to Poipet to fight. They promptly deserted the battlefield, commandeered an armoured personnel carrier, and drove back to Siem Reap - on the way back involved in a tense stand-off with RCAF regulars who decided it was more prudent to let them pass. There has not been any independently confirmed sightings or contact from the group since March 26. "We're in the unfortunate and unhappy position of receiving speculative reports of where Chris and Hoerth may be," McCarron said. Differing stories about their location have come from various official and unofficial channels.
Siem Reap authorities are leading attempts to arrange the hostages' release. When asked whether authorities had made their best efforts to break the deadlock, McCarron said: "We have to assume so, and there's no reason for any perceived shortfall." MAG and provincial authorities are trying to establish a mechanism to work together to validate the various accounts of the hostages' location and condition. "Unfortunately we're in an early stage to establish this," McCarron said. Howes - whose team were demining a tertiary road under sub-contract to a German NGO KFW, on behalf of a World Food Program project - had made it know to all competent authorities that MAG was working in the area, McCarron said. "It's true that it was a new location for us," he said, "but it was known to all those who needed to know." MAG does not have armed guards as security, McCarron said. As a non-political, non-sectarian organization, it relied on being part of the mainly UN security network, being briefed, receiving reports and liasing with local police and militia about security matters. "All this had been done by Chris, including the previous night and on that morning of their departure to the site," McCarron said. McCarron said witness reports are still being re-checked and verified. However, he related the following chain of events:
The demining team had arrived at the site around 7.50am, a bit late because one of their two trucks had mechanical problems. Before 9am they had checked their equipment and begun work. Some of the deminers said they saw three or four armed men around the parked trucks, but thought they were local militia and paid them no attention. One deminer then saw the men level their guns at Howes and Hoerth, and immediately a larger group of men - with guns levelled - approached from the north, following livestock paths across the minefield. An unknown number of deminers ran off - later to be reported doing so on a UN radio network, which was the first MAG in Phnom Penh heard of the trouble - while the rest were told to stay put "or they would be fired upon." Howes and Hoerth were put in the back of the MAG Toyota pick-up, while the other deminers climbed into the back of the hired truck. They were driven north about four kms till the road stopped. At this point, Howes was given the option to return and get money, and told that if local militia approached "we will kill the deminers." Howes refused. The men were all then marched off into a heavily wooded forest; several managed to escape at this point, but how many is unknown. Around 2pm, the kidnappers decided to release all the Khmer deminers, keeping Howes and Hoerth, reminding the released men "that any approach by local militia or police may result in them killing Chris and Hoerth," McCarron said.
16 July 1996: Briton's kidnapper gets five years
A man who confessed to planning the kidnapping of a British mine removal expert in Cambodia has been sentenced to five years in jail. Cheap Vichit, a member of the Khmer Rouge, was involved in abducting Christopher Howes, who is still being held for ransom.
31 August 1996: Briton killed by guerrillas, says Khmer Rouge officer - by Richard Savill
The father of a British mine clearance expert kidnapped by Khmer Rouge guerrillas in Cambodia five months ago said last night that he had given up hope after reports that his son had been murdered by his captors. Christopher Howes was said to have been killed at noon on Thursday in Anlong Veng, headquarters of the hardline Khmer Rouge faction led by Pol Pot, during a mutiny within the ranks of the guerrilla movement. British diplomats in Phnom Penh were investigating the report in yesterday's Bangkok Post which quoted an unidentified Khmer Rouge officer. There was no independent confirmation of the report but Mr Howes's father, Ron said: "We are beginning to realise that we will probably not see him alive again. He went out there to save lives and ended paying with his own. He was a good son and a good man - a good Englishman." No explanation for the killing was given in the report and it was not clear why Mr Howes should have been executed during a mutiny. Mr Howes was a team leader of the Mines Action Group which is helping to clear the millions of mines left over from decades of civil war in Cambodia. Archie McCarron, director of MAG, said that he could not comment on the report. The British Embassy in Phnom Penh refused to comment. Reports of Mr Howes's fate have surfaced periodically, but none has been confirmed. Government officials cited intelligence sources in June as saying that Mr Howes had been forced to use his knowledge of explosives to make mines for the guerrillas.
22 November 1996: Anti-mine expert escapes his Khmer Rouge captors - by Richard Savill & Leo Dobbs
A British mine clearance expert was reported last night to have reached the safety of a Cambodian army unit after escaping from the Khmer Rouge guerrillas who seized him eight months ago. Christopher Howes and his interpreter, Huon Hourth, who were captured while de-mining a roadside pagoda in the northern province of Siem Reap, were "healthy but skinny," according to a Cambodian army officer. The two men were reported to have escaped from the Khmer Rouge base of Anlong Veng earlier this month with the help of their guards and defectors, according to Lt Gen Nhiek Bun Chhay, armed forces deputy chief of staff. Mr Howes was said to have fled with a handcuff on one hand after it was cut from a door lock. They were reported last night to have reached Anlong Kranh village in the central province of Kompong Thom. "It took a long time because there were problems in travelling," the general said. The village is on the fringes of territory controlled by Pol Pot's hardliners and is difficult to reach by road. Mr Howes is expected to be flown to Phnom Penh today. Nhiek Bun Chhay said: "I don't know why they didn't kill him but he was ordered to work during the day and put in prison at night". He was forced to have spent much of his time in captivity teaching the Khmer Rouge how to make mines. The parents of Mr Howes were waiting yesterday with their "fingers crossed" for confirmation of reports that he had been freed. Roy and Betty Howes said that they were still unsure about the claims. "We have had so many false rumours, it is difficult to believe anything," said Mrs Howes."Our feelings, if this is true, are absolute relief and delight, and that will be shared by many thousands of our fellow countrymen," said Mr Howes's father. "But until I hear from the Foreign Office we shall unhappily regard it as rumour. We have had tremendous help from neighbours, family and from thousands of people from this country and overseas who have written to us. There were times when we feared the worst, but now we hope he may be coming home." Mr Howes added that previous reports, claiming his son had been released, then that he had been executed, were "the most difficult things to handle. We have been living in a half-world of not knowing whether to believe all that we read and hear or not to believe it," he said. "When nasty things come along it shatters one's belief and depression sets in."
23 November 1996: Escaped Briton 'being carried through jungle' - by Richard Savill
The British mine clearance expert who escaped from his Khmer Rouge captors was being carried in a hammock through dense jungle amid concern about his health, a senior Cambodian army commander said yesterday. Christopher Howes was weak, thin and unable to walk as he was helped through the swampy terrain accompanied by Khmer Rouge defectors and government soldiers, said Gen Nhiek Bun Chhay, armed forces deputy chief of staff. Mr Howes and his Cambodian interpreter, Huon Hourth, had been expected to arrive by helicopter yesterday at the military airbase in Phnom Penh, but there was continuing uncertainty last night about their fate. Archie McCarron, the Phnom Penh-based project director of the Mines Advisory Group (MAG), for whom the men were working at the time of their abduction in March, said last night: "There is nobody from the British side who has actually physically seen him, but we are assuming that he and Hourth are alive. "It is proving difficult to confirm because of the terrain they are travelling through. We think they are in a quite remote area and we don't know exactly where. "We have to assume they are on foot because of the type of jungle terrain. It appears they are heading towards the nearest government military base. It could be up to 10 days that they have been walking through the jungle or it could be as little as five. We are not sure yet." Cambodia is approaching the end of the rainy season and many parts are flooded, making the trek more hazardous. "We are waiting moment by moment," said Mr McCarron. Gen Nhiek Bun Chhay, who has engineered the defection of thousands of guerrillas since the Khmer Rouge split into rival factions in August, said that Mr Howes and his interpreter were still about five miles from the army base in the Stong district of the central province of Kompong Thom, and were now in government-controlled territory. The regional commander, Gen Khan Savoen had sent 10 soldiers to meet the hostages and the guerrilla band and they had shaken hands, he added.
25 November 1996: Mine expert still missing in Cambodia - by Richard Savill
The whereabouts of Christopher Howes remained a mystery yesterday, four days after a senior Cambodian army officer reported that he had escaped from Khmer Rouge captivity. As his parents, Roy and Betty Howes endured another day of uncertainty, two Scotland Yard detectives were working with the Cambodian military in a "forward area" to confirm that he was heading to freedom. The British Embassy in Phnom Penh is in direct contact with the two detectives. A British official said at the weekend that there was no independent evidence that Mr Howes was safe. But the Cambodian authorities had provided reports "that give us cause for hope". Mr Howes and his Cambodian interpreter, Houn Hourth were seized eight months ago while clearing mines. A Cambodian army officer, Lt-Gen Nhiek Bun Chhay, said last week that the pair had escaped from the Anlong Veng base of the Khmer Rouge with the help of guerrillas who wanted to defect.
27 November 1996: Captive Briton 'to be freed in days' - by Richard Savill
Christopher Howes, the British mine-clearance expert held by the Khmer Rouge for eight months, is alive and should be released in days, one of Cambodia's two prime ministers said last night. First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh, leader of the royalist Funcinpec Party, said he planned to visit Siem Reap in northern Cambodia today to see the operation to obtain the release of Mr Howes. British officials in the capital, Phnom Penh, welcomed the prince's visit to Siem Reap but said there was still no confirmation that Mr Howes and Houn Hourth, his Cambodian interpreter, were heading for freedom. "There is no new information," one official said. The Foreign Office says it will regard Mr Howes as being free only when he is in British hands. Prince Ranariddh, in his first public comments since last week's reports that Mr Howes had escaped with defecting Khmer Rouge guerrillas, said he was "very optimistic," but was worried about reports that Khmer Rouge commanders had issued an order that Mr Howes should be killed. The prince, speaking in Phnom Penh, said he was sure that Mr Howes and his interpreter had left Anlong Veng, the base of Khmer Rouge hardliners, where they are said to have been held captive. "He left alive and is on the way and now we have sent troops to catch up with the defectors [who are] with the hostages," he said. "I cannot fix a date [for his freedom], but it cannot be long now. It could be days. The real problem is that we have to be very cautious because we have learned [from radio intercepts] that some of the commanders in Anlong Veng have ordered the hostage destroyed." He said heavy flooding in region was also a problem. It is thought that the difficult terrain and heavy rains bogged the group down as they made their way by foot to a military base in the village of Sambuor, about 110 miles north of Phnom Penh in Kampong Thom's Stung district. The prince said he had arranged for a helicopter to bring Mr Howes back to Phnom Penh once he is in the hands of government troops. Nhiek Bun Chhay, the army deputy chief of staff, source of last week's reports that Mr Howes was trekking through jungle with the defectors, said yesterday he also believed that he would be freed soon. "I think the longest would be a week," he told reporters. The defecting group that helped Mr Howes escape, numbering between 100 and 150, were expected to arrive with him in Kampong Thom province on Friday. But they never arrived at a rendezvous point.
29 November 1996: Cambodians seek missing Briton - by Richard Savill
Cambodian troops set out yesterday in the hope of a mountain rendezvous with Christopher Howes, the kidnapped British mines clearance expert, amid fears that Khmer Rouge guerrillas may be on his trail. Mr Howes and his Cambodian interpreter, Houn Hourth, failed to arrive at two other meeting points in the jungle and after six days of confusion there were still no official reports of their whereabouts last night. Maj Gen Khan said he was concerned that the pair and the 150 Khmer Rouge defectors believed to be with them may have been discovered by hardliners loyal to Pol Pot, the Khmer rouge leader. Fighting was reported on Monday around the Phnom Chan mountain, one of the three possible meeting points arranged by a go-between, he said. British officials in Phnom Penh said that while there may be a dissident Khmer Rouge unit in the area, there had been no confirmation that Mr Howes was with them.
30 November 1996: Caution over fate of British hostage - by Richard Savill & Leo Dobbs
As soldiers searched the jungles, swamps and hills of northern Cambodia for Christopher Howes last night, caution crept into official statements from military and political leaders on the fate of the British hostage. After the euphoria marking initial reports that the mine clearance expert from Bristol and his Cambodian interpreter, Houn Hourth, were heading for safety, there has still been no sighting of the pair. First, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, the Prime Minister, speaking at Phnom Penh airport before leaving for the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, said he had "no news" of 37-year-old Mr Howes. Then, in contrast to his readiness to make optimistic announcements a week ago, Lt-Gen Nhiek Bun Chhay, the army deputy chief of staff, said he wished to "keep quiet" when asked about the case. Cambodian political and military leaders have suggested in the past eight days that Mr Howes's release from Khmer Rouge captivity may be imminent. But British officials, while expressing hope, have urged caution throughout. The soldiers involved in the search are taking orders from Maj-Gen Khan Savoeun, once commander of anti-communist resistance guerrillas in the area that Mr Howes is reported to be trying to cross. Early reports that he was heading for freedom apparently emanated from a Khmer Rouge dissident who arrived in Siem Reap almost two weeks ago and agreed a plan with military commanders to bring the hostage out. The general said the soldiers' failure to find Mr Howes could be due to the hard terrain, flooding, sickness or, most ominously, that they might have run into Khmer Rouge hard-liners.
24 December 1996: No contact with British hostage in Cambodia
The Cambodian government has had no news of a Briton taken hostage by the Khmer Rouge nine months ago and some military officials now doubt whether he is alive, sources said on Tuesday.More than a month has passed since Cambodian authorities had contact with Khmer Rouge renegades who claimed that they had rescued Christopher Howes and his translator, Huon Hourth, officials said. The report of the November 5 escape came from a Khmer Rouge operative, who talked on November 19 and 20 to senior military officials. The guerrilla agent said he and more than 140 men wanted to defect. The army officers said they believed the Khmer Rouge liaison because they had known the man for many years. General Khann Savoeun, the regional military commander leading the search for Howes, said Tuesday he believes the Briton escaped but that the lack of recent information indicates that Howes may not be alive. "I am concerned that Chrisopher Howes has already fallen back into hard-line Khmer Rouge territory," said Khann Savoeun, contacted by phone at his base in Siem Reap province, less than 30 kilometers from the site where the abduction occurred. The general has previously stated that if the hard-line Khmer Rouge re-captured Howes that he did not think the Briton would be seen alive again.
14 March 1997: Mines clearance man reported to be dead - by Richard Savill
Christopher Howes, the British mine clearance expert abducted almost a year ago, has been killed, Hun Sen, Cambodia's joint Prime Minister, said yesterday. He cited military intelligence as his source for the claim, but said that other reports had been more positive about Mr Howes's fate. "I wish the news saying that the British man is dead was not true," Mr Hun Sen was quoted as saying at a public meeting in Kompong Cham province. He added that there was just "one chance in a million" that Mr Howes might still be alive. The Foreign Office and the British Embassy in Phnom Penh have been unable to confirm a number of conflicting reports in recent months about the fate of Mr Howes who was seized by Khmer Rouge guerrillas. The Foreign Office said last night there was "no proof" that Mr Howes was either dead or alive. "We are continuing to work on the assumption that he is alive until we have evidence to the contrary. Speculation is not helpful." Mr Howes and his Cambodian interpreter, Houn Hourth, were kidnapped on March 26 last year. Mr Howes's parents, Roy and Betty, appealed in a Cambodian newspaper for news of their son after reports in November that he had escaped from Khmer Rouge guerrillas. Yesterday, Mr Howes said: "Please tell us the truth. We have been through so much that now I find it hard to believe anything that comes out of that wretched country. We have had so many rumours over the past 11 months. We want the British police over there to say, 'We have found him, he is alive,' or 'We have found where he is buried' or 'We have found the man who shot him.' "It's as simple as that. We have been fed a diet of lies and deceit since last March without ever knowing the truth." The claims that Mr Howes was alive were made by Prince Norodom Ranariddh, Cambodia's other joint Prime Minister, and leader of the royalist Funcinpec party. Both Funcinpec and Mr Hun Sen's formerly Communist Cambodian People's Party (CPP) have tried to reap advantage from the break up of the Khmer Rouge and reports about Mr Howes may have been coloured by the political agendas of the two men.
27 April 1997: £75,000 ransom fails to free Khmer Rouge's hostage - by Sebastien Berger
A £75,000 ransom paid in defiance of Foreign Office advice failed to secure the release of a British mine clearance expert kidnapped in Cambodia, it emerged last night. The ransom, paid in used dollar notes by Christopher Howes's British employers, the Mines Advisory Group (MAG), was handed over in a carrier bag to a man in Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital. He had claimed to be in touch with the kidnappers and was promising results within two weeks, according to a Sunday newspaper. No release followed, however, and Mr Howes remains a captive, assuming he is still alive. Foreign Office officials and Scotland Yard negotiators were in Cambodia at the time, but had failed to make contact with the Khmer Rouge guerrillas who seized Mr Howes last March. They were not told of the ransom payment at the time, and it only emerged after a change of management at MAG. Mr Howes, a former soldier, was captured by rebels with his Cambodian interpreter Houn Hourth and his 32-man mine clearance team, as they worked on a project near the ancient temples of Angkor. The team were freed immediately, but rumours of Mr Howes's death or imminent freedom have repeatedly circulated since then. After nine months of uncertainty, Mr Howes's superior, Archie McCarron, held a series of meetings with a man who said he was an intermediary for the Khmer Rouge. Once convinced he could be trusted, Mr McCarron gave him a carrier bag containing two bundles of money from the charity's funds last November. One, of £44,000, was to be passed on to Mr Howes's captors immediately, and the other, of £31,000, on his release. About one third of the money was later returned, less "expenses" for the continuing effort to free Mr Howes. The Foreign Office said last night that they always discouraged ransom payments. "Our policy is not to pay ransoms. It rewards terrorism and risks encouraging further kidnaps. We disapprove very strongly of ransom payments. We did go over the ground and explain this to MAG. "No one has actually heard from the kidnappers since March, when Mr Howes was captured. There have been many rumours and unsubstantiated reports since then, and we are committed to trying to find out what did happen. We will continue to pursue every lead that may help us to discover his whereabouts, but the fact is that there is no proof of life." Neither Mr McCarron nor MAG officials could be reached for comment last night. However Mr Howes' father, Roy Howes, a former company executive, told a Sunday newspaper that he approved of anything that might free his son. "I would not mind if they handed the crown jewels over to get my son back," he said.
9 June 1997: King fails to find hostage Briton - by Richard Savill
King Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia has told the mother of Christopher Howes, the missing British mine clearance expert, that he has failed to obtain information on her son's whereabouts from Khmer Rouge leaders. "I have done my utmost, through several messages addressed to the Khmer Rouge leadership, to obtain a proper answer on the whereabouts of Mr Howes, yet the Khmer Rouge refuse to acknowledge that they captured your son," the king said in a letter to Betty Howes. "I share your anguish over the disappearance of your esteemed son, who had been doing a remarkable job helping our country to rid itself of landmines." The king's letter, released yesterday by the palace in Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital, will deepen pessimism about the fate of Mr Howes who disappeared with his Cambodian interpreter, Huon Hourth, 15 months ago. They were part of a British-based Mines Advisory Group (MAG) team working at a village north of the ancient Angkor temples. Officials in the province believe that they were later taken to the Khmer Rouge jungle base of Anlong Veng. The palace also released a letter sent last month to the king by Mrs Howes, in which she appealed to him to help find her son. "I know that you sympathise with my family and understand the anguish of a mother," she wrote. "If there is anything more that you can do to obtain his freedom, or reliable information regarding his fate, you will have my undying gratitude." Mrs Howes also appealed to the king to investigate the "untimely release" of a man who was jailed last July for his part in the kidnapping of her son, but is now free. In his reply, the king said he would convey the family's concerns in a letter to the joint prime ministers, Prince Norodom Ranariddh and Hun Sen. Mr Howes's parents yesterday said they would never give up hope. "We did not expect anything positive, but we want them to keep doing things to try to find him," Roy Howes said.
16 June 1997: Rumours of kidnapped mine expert multiply - by Richard Savill and David Graves
Conjecture over the fate of Christopher Howes, the British mine clearance expert kidnapped in Cambodia last year, has increased with the reported downfall of the Khmer Rouge. A welter of unsubstantiated claims and counterclaims as to his whereabouts reached the capital, Phnom Penh, but there was still no independent confirmation that he was alive or dead. British officials are trying to secure accurate information after reports that Mr Howes was alive and in the hands of Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge leader. Pol Pot is said to have fled his last remaining base at Anlong Veng in the northern Cambodian jungle, after senior members of his guerilla force turned against him. There was also a report that a recent photograph of Mr Howes, taken two months ago, was in the possession of a Cambodian general, although the officer last night denied any knowledge of the picture. The latest report that Mr Howes was alive came from Gen Nhek Bunchhay, the deputy Chief of Staff of the Cambodian army. But his previous statements on the fate of Mr Howes have proved unreliable and his claim was contradicted almost immediately by Hun Sen, one of the country's two prime ministers. Mr Howes, and his interpreter, Huon Hourth, were believed to have been taken to Anlong Veng after their abduction on March 26 last year. He was working with a 30-strong team from the Mines Advisory Group. There have been unconfirmed reports over the past 12 months that he had been executed. At the weekend, Mr Howes's father, Roy, said: "We cannot allow ourselves to believe these rumours. We can only continue to pray, and hope." Cambodia's two prime ministers have in the past also made contradictory statements about the fate of Mr Howes. Prince Ranariddh has previously given statements similar in their optimism to that of Gen Bunchhay, who is linked to the Funcinpec Party. Hun Sen, on the other hand, has always been negative about the fate of Mr Howes. At the weekend, he bluntly dismissed Gen Bunchhay's claim, telling reporters: "I don't believe that the British de-miner is still alive."
22 November 1997: Reward Offered for Captured Briton - by Caroline Gluck
The family of a British landmine-clearance worker, who was kidnapped more than a year ago, have placed adverts in local Cambodian newspapers offering an unspecified reward for any information about their son and his Cambodian interpreter. Christopher Howes and his assistant were abducted last March, but despite many false rumours there has been no firm news as to what has happened to the two men. Several newspapers are carrying a photograph of Christopher Howes and an appeal by his family for any information about their son and his Cambodian interpreter. Both men were abducted in March last year as they were carrying out mine-clearance work in the northern province of Siem Reap. Although there have been several false alarms of sightings, there has really been no reliable information as to the men's fate, nor indeed is it entirely clear who their abductors were, although the Cambodian government believes they were kidnapped by Khmer Rouge guerrillas. In their appeal, Christopher Howes's family offer a reward for information, saying that relatives of the two men are experiencing great distress and unhappiness at the continued lack of reliable information. Two Scotland Yard detectives have been investigating the case in Cambodia, but left soon after fighting broke out in the capital in July. However the Foreign Office says that while it has no proof that Mr Howes is dead or alive, his case remains under investigation and that any new leads will be actively pursued.
26 March 1998: Kidnapped Briton remains 'top priority' - by David Willis (BBC News)
Two years to the day since Christopher Howes was kidnapped in Cambodia, the Foreign Office still has no news as to his whereabouts. Nevertheless, the Foreign Office says that getting to the truth remains a top priority for the government. A former member of the Royal Engineers, Mr Howes was taken hostage whilst clearing land mines in the jungle of northern Cambodia for a British-based charity, the Mines Advisory Group. His parents, Roy and Betty Howes, both aged 70, held a vigil with Mr Howes' sister, Patricia, and friends at their home in Yorkshire on Wednesday. Earlier, they had attended their parish church where the local community rallied round to show support for the family and offer prayers for the missing former Falklands war veteran. Reverend John Wright told the service: "We will continue to support the family and each other and keep the memory of Christopher alive as we trust he is still alive." Mr Howes' abduction has always been blamed on Khmer Rouge guerrillas, whose murderous rule in the 1970s caused the death of more than a million Cambodians. Despite these rumours about his fate, no firm evidence to back them up has ever materialised. The Khmer Rouge leadership is now denying that they are to blame. Enquiries by a team of detectives from Scotland Yard have failed to trace a single confirmed sighting of Mr Howes. Nor have his kidnappers ever made contact or intimated their willingness to negotiate.
14 April 1998: Kidnapped Briton 'killed' (BBC News)
An American-based magazine has reported that a British mine-clearing expert was killed shortly after being kidnapped by Khmer Rouge soldiers in March, 1996. Christopher Howes and his interpreter were seized near the famous Angkor temples but to date, there has been no firm evidence of their fate. Time magazine, quoting two senior Khmer Rouge officers, says Mr Howes was killed a week after his capture. The report says he was shot in the back and his body burned on the orders of Pol Pot, the former Khmer Rouge leader. Time magazine says he was killed near Anlong Veng, the Khmer Rouge's last stronghold, which the Cambodian Government now claims to have captured. Mr Howe's father, Roy said he was sceptical about the claims made by Yim Panna and Ke Pauk, the officers quoted in Time. Mr Howe said the British ambassador has previously questioned them. "Until I have absolute proof he is dead, he is alive and he has to be got out," said Mr Howe. "If you don't have hope or faith it's a hard road - it's a hard road anyway." The British Foreign Office said it cannot confirm or deny the report. A spokesman said: "There have been a very large number of rumours surrounding Mr Howes but so far there is no conclusive evidence to show what has happened."
20 April 1998: A Final, Bloody Chapter - by Terry McCarthy (Time Magazine)
Last week two more people were added to the list of Pol Pot's victims. In March 1996, British mine clearer Christopher Howes and his interpreter, Houn Hourth, were abducted by Khmer Rouge guerrillas near the famous Angkor temples. Their fate had been a mystery, with reported live sightings as recently as last June, plus ransom hoaxes and all the usual false leads attached to a Westerner's missing in Indochina. But Ke Pauk and Yim Panna, two senior Khmer Rouge leaders who had been instrumental in organizing the Anlong Veng mutiny, told TIME in separate interviews that both men were in fact killed shortly after their capture. Howes was moved to Anlong Veng, where he was taken out to a field and shot in the back by a man named Bao on the orders of a close aide to Pol Pot.The deaths of the two men were as saddening as they were senseless. Howes' father Roy had put an advertisement in Cambodian newspapers last Christmas pleading for information and pointing out that his son "was working so that the people of Cambodia, whom he greatly admired, might live happily without the daily fear of death and dreadful injury." Asked why Howes was killed, Panna said, "That was Pol Pot's rule. He didn't want any foreigners involved in our society." It was of course this hostility to outsiders that kept the Khmer Rouge stuck in the jungle while the rest of Cambodia benefited from rapid economic development fueled in part by foreign investment. And it was resentment at missing out on this progress that prompted the latest, final rebellion in the Khmer Rouge ranks. "It is time now to end the war - we need to open to the outside world," said Panna. "The Khmer Rouge policy has killed itself." After it killed so many others, its own demise is most welcome.
20 April 1998: Killed In The Line Of Duty - by Terry McCarthy (Time Magazine)
In what may be the last days of Cambodia's brutal Khmer Rouge, exclusive interviews with defectors reveal the tragic fate of Christopher Howes: At first, Christopher Howes paid little attention to the four armed men who approached him in the village of Preah Koh, near the famous Angkor temples in northern Cambodia. The 36-year-old former British army engineer was busy supervising 24 of his staff in their efforts to clear land mines from the area. That morning - March 26, 1996 - they had started work late because one of their trucks had broken down. Howes had been in Cambodia for only five months, but he already knew that after three decades of war, almost every male in the country over the age of 12 had a gun. Quickly the situation went bad. The men were Khmer Rouge, and as they levelled guns at Howes and his interpreter, a larger group of the communist guerrillas emerged from the treeline to capture the rest of the deminers. Initially, according to radio intercepts at the time, his captors told Howes he could leave to organize a ransom payment for his Cambodian staff. When Howes refused to abandon his men, the Khmer Rouge marched Howes and his interpreter, Houn Hourth, into the jungle. The other deminers were released.
For two years the mystery of Howes and Hourth has endured. The efforts of Cambodian and Thai military intelligence along with detectives from Britain's Scotland Yard could not separate fact from rumor about the two men. All that was known was they were taken north in the direction of Anlong Veng, the last Khmer Rouge stronghold in Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge leadership denied on their radio station that they had anything to do with the disappearance of Howes and Hourth. But there were rumored sightings of Howes alive in Khmer Rouge captivity as recently as last June and macabre stories of the soldier-turned-deminer being forced to teach the guerrillas how to make their own mines. He was variously reported to be suffering from malaria and chronic diarrhea - plausible assumptions for anyone living in the jungles of northern Cambodia. In November 1996 Howes' employers, the Mines Advisory Group, paid $120,000 to a man who claimed he could get the Briton released from the Khmer Rouge, but the man vanished with most of the money, and no news of Howes was forthcoming. Anlong Veng refused to yield up its secrets. The climate changed radically last month, however, when there was a mutiny in Anlong Veng followed by bitter fighting within the Khmer Rouge. Thousands of defecting civilians and Khmer Rouge troops came south to join the government in a move that analysts say finally heralds the demise of the brutal group. Last week TIME spoke separately to two senior Khmer Rouge leaders who had come out of Anlong Veng, and both described Howes' fate in detail. According to their accounts, the rumors of Howes being kept in captivity were all false: Howes and his interpreter, Hourth, were executed shortly after they were captured, on orders that originated from Pol Pot, leader of the Khmer Rouge at the time.
"Christopher Howes was killed one week after he was captured," said Ke Pauk, 68, commander of the northern zone in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge rule two decades ago and one of the instigators of the recent mutiny in Anlong Veng. He said the order to kill Howes came through So Saroeun, a close ally of Pol Pot (the former leader denied involvement in a rare radio interview last week). The murder was carried out, Pauk continued, by a soldier named Bao in a spot near Anlong Veng called Konleng Pienic Tmei (the place of new commerce). "He was asked to sit down first, then Bao shot him in the back with a pistol. His body was burned and his bones spread on the ground. Now that place has been cleared by a tractor to make a rice field." Pauk gave the names of three other Khmer Rouge soldiers who were involved--Tem, Kong and Nguon. He said Hourth had been killed even earlier, three days after the kidnapping. "Yes, both of them were killed," said Yim Panna, 42, a commander of Khmer Rouge division 980 who also defected to the government last month. Panna, who was interviewed at a different location, was unable to confirm where the killing took place, but otherwise gave the same account as Pauk, citing the same names of the men who captured Howes. Cold-blooded killing and obsessive secrecy--these have been the twin pathologies of the Khmer Rouge since they presided over Cambodia's Killing Fields from 1975 to 1979. Howes' case would probably have also remained unsolved, had it not been for the latest upheavals in the Khmer Rouge.
The deaths of Christopher Howes and Houn Hourth are just two of the countless crimes that Pol Pot has to answer for, but they are particularly saddening. Howes' mission in Cambodia was humanitarian. His father, Roy Howes, put an advertisement in Cambodian newspapers last Christmas pleading for information about his missing son, pointing out that Christopher had been "working so that the people of Cambodia, whom he greatly admired, might live happily without the daily fear of death and dreadful injury." But Pol Pot's program for Cambodia has been as xenophobic as it is self-destructive, and foreigners by definition have been the enemy. Asked why Howes was killed, Panna said "that was Pol Pot's rule. He didn't want any foreigners involved in our society." Ironically it was this hostility to outsiders that prompted the latest rebellion in the Khmer Rouge ranks, by people who saw their lives in the jungle going nowhere while the rest of Cambodia benefited from rapid economic development. "It is time now to end the war. We need to open to the outside world," said Panna. "The Khmer Rouge policy has killed itself." After the killing of so many others, it is about time.
24 May 1998: Cambodia hostage murdered
The Foreign Office has said that the British mine clearance expert Christopher Howes, who has been missing in Cambodia for two years, was murdered by Khmer Rouge guerrillas shortly after being taken hostage. It has told Mr Howes' family that British police investigating his disappearance have found "firm evidence" of his murder. 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." A former member of the Royal Engineers, Mr Howes was taken hostage whilst clearing land mines in the jungle of northern Cambodia for a British-based charity, the Mines Advisory Group. His Cambodian interpreter was also taken. The news was broken by telephone to his distressed parents Roy and Betty at their Backwell home near Bristol. 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. We are trying to come to terms with it, but it is not easy. What has happened, has happened. Christopher did marvellous work. He was a brave man and in his short life he probably achieved more than most of us will achieve." He understood that police officers who had been involved in intensive inquiries in Cambodia now had witnesses who said that Mr Howes was murdered three days after he was kidnapped.
25 May 1998: Missing mine expert killed
A British mine clearance expert missing in Cambodia for more than two years was murdered shortly after his kidnap by Khmer Rouge guerrillas, it emerged yesterday. A team of Scotland Yard detectives investigating the fate of Christopher Howes have found "firm evidence" of his death, the Foreign Office said. Roy Howes spoke of his "shock and horror" at the murder of his 36-year-old son, who had refused an offer of freedom because his interpreter Houn Hourth was not also being released. Christopher Howes was working for the Mines Advisory Group, a British charity, at the village of Preah Ko, near the temples of Angkor Wat, when he was kidnapped in March 1996. Roy and Betty Howes were enjoying the sun in the garden of their bungalow home when they were told the grim news by the Foreign Office's head of counter-terrorism, Vincent Fean. Mr Howes said that he had telephoned his daughter, Pat, a local government officer in Wakefield. "I was very upset and so was she," he said. "We are trying to be normal but it is not a normal situation. We have got to be brave for our son."
26 May 1998: Now let us lay our son to rest - by Nicholas Cecil & Matthew George (Western Daily Press)
The parents of murdered landmines hero Christopher Howes were given new hope last night that they can give him a Christian burial. Roy and Betty Howes are now waiting for British detectives to fly back to Britain with ashes recovered deep in the Cambodian jungle. If forensic tests show the remains are those of the West charity worker who vanished more than two years ago it will help his parents cope with their grief. The couple from Backwell, near Bristol, had campaigned for their son's freedom since he was kidnapped by Khmer Rouge guerrillas, but on Sunday the Foreign Office told them the detectives had found firm evidence that he had been murdered. The officers recovered ashes, mixed with soil, after being flown in a helicopter by the Cambodian army to the former Khmer Rouge stronghold of Anlong Veng. Scotland Yard negotiators were shown the room where the mines clearance expert was shot and the spot where his body was supposedly burnt.
Mr Howes' parents have always said that if their son had been killed they wanted his body brought back to Britain. Last night Roy Howes said: "I hope that what they bring home will identify Christopher and we can put him to rest properly. We want to give him a proper Christian burial. I imagine the ashes will be DNA tested. I would hope the perpetrators of this crime would be brought to justice but we have no particular wish to be involved in hunting them down. We have already had two years taken out of our lives. We feel the legitimate authorities will bring them to justice if that is their wish.
Yesterday a second former Khmer Rouge guerrilla described what he claimed were the final hours of the charity worker. Khmer Rouge security official Nget Rim has given one account of the murder, and now a second man has given details. Their stories differ in some respects. The former guerrilla, interviewed on condition of anonymity near the Thai-Cambodian border, claimed Mr Howes looked nervous all the time he was detained. "I think he realised he would be killed. I felt sorry for him, but there was nothing I could do because an order is an order and it was either his life or my life," he said. Mr Howes was killed on the order of Khem Nguon, then deputy chief of staff and now military commander of the few remaining Khmer Rouge forces. But the witnesses said that they believed the order had come down from Pol Pot, the group's leader at the time, who died last month.
Mr Howes was executed after the guerrillas took him by car for a drive west of Anlong Veng, said the witness. Those riding, who included Khem Nguon and a number of his bodyguards, stoppped for a snack and were eating fruit when the order was given to kill him. One of the bodyguards, named Mao, shot Mr Howes in the back and head, said the guerrilla, one of about ten witnesses to the killing. Mr Howes body was then returned to Anlong Veng, where it was burned twice in an effort to expunge evidence of the murder, he said. Khem Nguon warned the witnesses that if any of them told about the slaying, they and their families would be killed. Mr Howes had been targeted for kidnapping "because he was a de-miner and the Khmer Rouge believed he de-mined only in resistance areas and so he was their enemy." He was treated well and kept for a time in the guerrillas' infirmary and Khem Nguon's house, even though they apparently meant from the outset to kill him, the witness said.
27 July 1998: Farewell to a son and hero - by Nicholas Cecil (Western Daily Press)
The bells tolled for a heroic British soldier who died in a far-flung land. As the chimes rang out hundreds of people streamed towards St Andrew's Church, Backwell, near Bristol. They were there to celebrate and remember the life of mines clearance expert, Christopher Howes, murdered by the Khmer Rouge after being kidnapped in the northern province of Siem Reap in Cambodia. Christopher, a Falklands war veteran, was offered his freedom but refused to leave his team of more than 20 deminers. The Cambodian deminers were later released but Christopher and his interpreter Houn Hourth were shot within days of their abduction on March 26, 1996. But only after more than two years of agony did Christopher's parents Roy and Betty discover their son's fate. In May, Scotland Yard detectives recovered ashes from the site, in the former Khmer Rouge stronghold of Anlong Veng, where Christopher was said to have been cremated. Forensic tests have confirmed in the past few days that the ashes are human remains and Christopher's parents accept they are his. They hope now to bury these ashes in English soil.
Roy and Betty, in their seventies, had expected a few hundred people to attend the service at 11.30am on Saturday. But soon every seat was taken, the aisles were packed and dozens more stood in an annexe as more than 500 people poured into the church. Foreign Office Minister Baroness Symons, Vincent Fian, head of the counter-terrorism policy unit at the Foreign Office, Detective Chief Superintendant Mike Dixon, who headed the investigation, and Dr Liam Fox, Tory MP for Woodspring who played a key role in discovering the deminer's fate, were there. His voice trembling with emotion, Rae McGrath, founder of the British-based charity, Mines Advisory Group for whom Christopher worked, said: "Christopher was a hero long before he refused to leave his fellow team members at the mercy of the Khmer Rouge. His memories will endure in mountain villages and jungle settlements that appear on few maps, not as a foreigner but as a friend who cared and hoped to make life safer for future generations. Having known Chris as a friend and as a colleague I cannot find it within me to mourn. I will celebrate a heroic friend, a deminer who put into practice his engineering skills to make this world a better place and who, at the cost of his life, showed his love and loyalty for his fellow men."
Christopher was "no superman or picture book saint," said the Rev John Wright, rector of Backwell. But he added: "He was gloriously human. An ordinary kind of human, a man who found it within him to do extraordinary things. He was an example of something now though old fashioned - a fine English soldier. he died doing a good work in a part of the world gone bad." After the service, Lou McGrath, director of MAG, revealed that Christopher's parents had been made patrons of the charity. He said: "Roy has now taken up the cause where he feels Christopher left off and his objective is to raise the profile of MAG. Yesterday Roy said: " We don't have Christopher's skill or bravery but whatever we can do we shall. It makes you feel humble to be the parents of a man who was so loved and respected by so many people and of such outstanding quality. Our hearts are gladdened by so many people at the service. I'm sure Chris would have been happy with it."
12 February 2001: Civilian Gallantry List
Queen's Gallantry Medal - Christopher Malone Howes (Deceased). Civilian.
For his actions in negotiating the release of Mines Advisory Group personnel in a hostage situation in Cambodia. Christopher Howes was a member of the Mines Advisory Group (MAG), working in Cambodia to clear landmines and unexploded ordnance, managing a de-mining team comprising more than 20 staff. On the morning of 26th March 1996, his team was preparing to start clearance work in a village in the province of Siem Reap. As they commenced their activities, a group of 30 armed Khmer Rouge guerillas emerged from the nearby forest. The team were surrounded and, under the threat of armed force, ordered to their vehicles. They were driven to the end of a dirt track where the vehicles were stripped of equipment. Mr Howes was then told by the Khmer Rouge leader to return to MAG for ransom money. Talking through his interpreter, he refused, pledging to remain with his team and urging their release. The situation was already dangerous and difficult, and tensions increased further when a number of de-miners managed to escape. Mr Howes continued his efforts to urge the guerrillas to release the other team members and eventually they agreed. However, the guerrillas kept Mr Howes and his interpreter hostage and two days later the interpreter was killed. Mr Howes was taken to the Khmer Rouge headquarters where he was held for several days before being shot dead on the orders of the Khmer Rouge General.
13 February 2001: Murdered mines expert to get Queen's medal (The Evening Standard)
Murdered landmine expert Chris Howes will be awarded the Queen's Gallantry Medal at a ceremony in London today. Falklands veteran Mr Howes was captured by Khmer Rouge guerrillas in 1996 as he led a mine-clearing team in Cambodia, and killed three days later. A street and school in Cambodia now bear his name.
2004: Getting Away With Genocide? Elusive Justice and the Khmer Rouge Tribunal © Tom Fawthrop and Helen Jarvis
Page 115...The kidnap and execution of Christopher Howes, a de-miner working for the British NGO MAG (Mines Advisory Group) in March 1996, and his Cambodian partner Houn Hourth once more alerted the world to the continuing menace posed by the Khmer Rouge. Pressure on the UK government resulted in two Scotland Yard detectives being deployed in Siem Reap province where the kidnapping took place. The Khmer Rouge predictably denied any knowledge of Howes and his fate remained a mystery for more than two years. It was not until May 1998 that it was finally confirmed that Howes had been taken by a Khmer Rouge unit to Ta Mok's headquarters in Anlong Veng. The internal Khmer Rouge revolt against Ta Mok's leadership in Anlong Veng led to the first real evidence in the case and a Khmer Rouge defector, interviewed in Phu Noi camp in Thailand, provided eyewitness testimony of how the British de-miner was shot from behind on the orders of Ta Mok and his deputy General Khem Nguon who supervised the killing and was the last one to speak to Howes.
...Solving the Howes murder case involved unprecedented cooperation between Cambodian military intelligence chief, Colonel Dom Hak, Scotland Yard detectives and the Thai military. Derek Fatchett, British Minister of State of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, met with Hun Sen in May 1998 and strongly urged the Cambodian government to arrest Howes's murderers. He handed over Scotland Yard's final report on the case, naming those responsible including Ta Mok, General Khem Nguon, Colonel Kong, the cadre who pulled the trigger and three members of Khem Nguon's bodyguard unit, known only as Rim, Lim and San.....The Scotland Yard report failed to mention that Ta Mok's deputy, Khem Nguon, who arranged the execution party and offered a durian fruit to Howes for his last supper before he was shot, had been working closely with the Thai military over many years....
...In December 1998 Generals Khem Nguon, Tem and Kong all returrned to Cambodia on the understanding that if they surrendered to Phnom Penh authorities they would not be arrested. In response to energetic lobbying by Stephen Bridges, the British ambassador in Phnom Penh, deputy prime minister Sar Kheng has said any prosecution must wait until the time is right. Until March 2004 - nearly ten years after his kidnap and death - nobody had been charged with the Howes murder.
Update: 15 November 2007: Christopher Howes - Justice At Last?
Major developments at last in the hunt for the men responsible for the kidnapping and killing of British de-miner Christopher Howes and his interpreter Houn Hourth in 1996. Three men were charged on Tuesday in the Phnom Penh Municipal Court with the illegal detention and premeditated killing of Christopher and his translator, and for Christopher's parents, Roy and Betty - who sadly died earlier this year after a short illness - its the first real development in their quest for the truth behind what really happened and for justice. Roy Howes, told the Western Daily Press that he was pleased by the arrests, not only for himself and the interpreter's family, but also for the people of Cambodia. "At last they are collecting some of these people [the Khmer Rouge]. They have been on the loose for eleven years now. Emotionally, it's never gone away for me, and for my wife before she died. As far as I'm concerned, I hope that the full force of the law comes down on the people responsible for Christopher's murder. If that means they are imprisoned for the rest of their lives, then so be it - irrespective of their ages and frailty." Abducted in the Khmer Rouge stronghold of Anlong Veng in March 1996 whilst working for the Mines Advisory Group, Christopher and his colleague were shot dead some days later on the command of the ruthless one-legged Khmer Rouge military commander Ta Mok. The names of the killers have been known to the Cambodian authorities for many years and now, as the high-profile arrests of top Khmer Rouge leaders for the impending Khmer Rouge Tribunal gathers pace, three suspects have finally been taken into custody and are being detained at Prey Sar prison in Phnom Penh. Pre-trial detention can last up to six months and the maximum punishment for premeditated murder is 20 years in prison and for illegal confinement, 10 years. The three men are RCAF Brigadier-General Khem Nguon, 58 and Loch Mao, 56, a local government official in Anlong Veng district - who've been charged with illegal detention and premeditated killing - and Chep Cheat, 33, a villager from Anlong Veng, who is charged with premeditated killing. It's the first serious development in the case for years and though the wheels of justice here are slow moving, there's at last a chink of light at the end of this dark tunnel for the families of the deceased men.
16 November 2007: Paying My Respects
With yesterday’s startling news that three of the alleged killers of Christopher Howes and his interpreter Houn Hourth have been charged and detained awaiting trial, some eleven years after their murders took place, I paid a visit this morning to Street 96, re-named Christopher Howes Street in memory of the British de-miner. I never met Christopher, who was killed in March 1996 after his abduction by Khmer Rouge guerrillas, but I was affected by his disappearance both because he was a fellow Brit in Cambodia – I first visited Cambodia at the end of 1994 and was deeply in love with the country - and also because he came from Bristol, just twenty minutes drive from my own home. I was so stunned by yesterday’s news that I felt compelled to pay my respects at the place in Phnom Penh which bears his name. Located in front of the National Institute of Management, a few blocks from the US Embassy compound, a plaque recalls Christopher’s name. I felt the frustration of his father Roy, when I talked to him on the telephone last year, that although the names of his son’s murderers were known to the Cambodian authorities, no action had been taken, though prophetically, deputy prime minister Sar Kheng had said any prosecution must wait until the time was right. Obviously that time has now arrived and warrants for the arrest of the three suspects were issued earlier this week. The appetite for taking senior Khmer Rouge leaders into custody has never been so great, now that the Khmer Rouge Tribunal is gathering steam and after Ieng Sary’s recent arrest, despite a royal pardon in the past, the impunity that was granted to former Khmer Rouge cadre like Khem Nguon, one of the three now standing accused of Christopher’s murder, is no longer worth the paper its written on. Besides the street bearing his name in Phnom Penh, Christopher is also remembered at a small primary school in the village where he and thirty of his de-mining team were first abducted and held captive. The Christopher Howes Memorial Primary School at Kork Srok village in the Varin district of Siem Reap province was named in his honour in 2000. The school was built with funds from the British Embassy after United Nations representatives working in the area felt it would be a fitting tribute to a man who gave his life whilst trying to save others. The school is about sixty kilometres from the provincial capital, Siem Reap. Although it will still be some time before the accused are brought to trial, this is a breakthrough I honestly thought I would never see, so I applaud the Cambodian authorities for taking this action and hope that justice for Christopher and Houn’s families can be found in time.
21 November 2007: Behind The Headlines - Khem Nguon
Khem Nguon was charged last week by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court with the kidnapping and murder in 1996 of Christopher Howes, a British de-mining expert from Bristol in Southwest England, working in Cambodia with the Mines Advisory Group. Howes and his interpreter Houn Hourth were captured by Khmer Rouge guerrillas in a remote village in Siem Reap province in March 1996, transferred to the KR stronghold of Anlong Veng and murdered. Though Nguon denies his involvement, it’s alleged that he supervised the killing on the instructions of his commanding officer, the brutal one-legged Ta Mok. Arrested alongwith Nguon were Loch Mao, a CPP-affiliated district official in Anlong Veng, who is alleged to be the man who pulled the trigger, and Chep Cheat, believed to be their driver. Further suspects are also being sought.
I’ve peered into the murky world of the Khmer Rouge to try to find out more about Khem Nguon but as you might expect, permeating a guerrilla organization isn’t easy sat at a desk and hard-line fighters don’t as a rule issue detailed biographies. However, Nguon, 58, originally from Takeo province, joined the Khmer Rouge movement in the ‘60s and was a Ta Mok loyalist from the days when ‘The Butcher’ ran the Southwest Zone with an iron fist. After the Khmer Rouge captured Phnom Penh in April 1975, Nguon served in the Military Division 502, an air-force unit. Later, he was sent to Shanghai in China for three years of military training specializing in radar, air-strikes and artillery. In an interview with the Phnom Penh Post in 1998, Nguon said he did not return to Cambodia until after the 1979 ousting of the Khmer Rouge by the invading Vietnamese when he joined Ta Mok’s forces at their Anlong Veng base in northwest Cambodia as the Chief of Military Division 980.
During 1997 and 1998, Nguon was a key player and very vocal in the internal drama within the Khmer Rouge leadership over the control of the movement. After Pol Pot had his Defense Minister Son Sen and his wife Yun Yat executed in June 1997 over their alleged secret negotiations with the Phnom Penh government, Ta Mok with Nguon, as his chief lieutenant, arrested Pol Pot alongwith senior cadre, Saroeun, San and Khan. The resultant show-trial of Brother Number One was held on 25 July 1997 and all four were convicted of betraying the movement; Pol Pot was placed under house arrest, the other three cadres were executed. At the time, Nguon courted the media and told reporters he had destroyed Pol Pot and rid the world of a tyrant. After Pol Pot’s death in April 1998, Nguon said he had hoped to hand over Pol Pot to a war crimes tribunal but he’d died of a heart attack. His quote at the time was; “What I can tell you is that he was quite old and he dropped his life like a ripe fruit.”
Just days later, he was again in the news when he announced he’d replaced his long-time mentor Ta Mok as commander of the Khmer Rouge, had changed their name to the National Solidarity Party and was making peace overtures to the Cambodian government, citing; “…to bring about national reconciliation where all parties announce an end to the war which no one has won, no one has lost.” With the Khmer Rouge in their final death throes, Nguon and half a dozen military generals finally surrendered to the Cambodian government on 6 December 1998 in exchange for amnesty and exemption from prosecution. He said he brought with him 5,000 troops and 15,000 civilians living under KR control. However, less than a month later he was threatening a resumption of hostilities if attempts were made to arrest other former Khmer Rouge leaders. It seems Khem Nguon had a quote for most occasions and a hot-line to the world’s press around that time. He’s been conspicuously silent in more recent years.
A part of Nguon’s amnesty was the award of a position as Brigadier-General in the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, acting as an advisor to the defence ministry. One of his most recent responsibilities with the RCAF was to participate in the military commission tasked with resolving border issues with Thailand. He speaks Chinese, Thai and reasonable English and has been living in Phnom Penh until his arrest. In an interview with the Phnom Penh Post in 1998, Nguon claimed he was not present at the shooting of the British de-miner, though he had spoken to him before his death, the shooting was ordered by Pol Pot and supervised by Saroeun, one of the cadres tried and executed after the Pol Pot show-trial. However, eyewitness testimony provided to British police detectives tells a different story. It alleges that Howes was shot from behind on the order of Ta Mok and his deputy Khem Nguon, who supervised the killing and was the last one to speak to him. The Scotland Yard report named those responsible as Ta Mok, Khem Nguon, Colonel Kong, the cadre who pulled the trigger and three members of Nguon’s bodyguard unit, known only as Rim, Lim and San.
Until now, the Cambodian authorities have not had the appetite to arrest the men responsible, despite lobbying from the former British Ambassador Stephen Bridges that resulted in deputy prime minister Sar Kheng saying that any prosecution must wait until the time was right. That time arrived last week and Khem Nguon is now in custody awaiting trial, alongwith two Khmer Rouge cohorts. If found guilty, the men face sentences of between 10 and 20 years imprisonment.
14 March 2008: Loch Mao In The Frame
In my post on Tuesday, I highlighted the future trial in Phnom Penh of the 3 suspects in custody, charged with the abduction and murder of British de-mining expert Christopher Howes in March 1996. All three were arrested in November of last year and can be held for six months pending their trial, so we should see some movement in the case fairly soon. Khem Nguon is the main name in the frame, having been a high-ranking member of the Khmer Rouge hierarchy and suspected of ordering and witnessing Howes's execution. Arrested with him were Loch Mao, a CPP-affiliated district official in Anlong Veng, who is alleged to be the man who pulled the trigger, and Chep Cheat, believed to be their driver. Their names have been in the frame for the murder for the last ten years but its only now that the Cambodian authorities have put the wheels of justice into motion. Khem Nguon was number two to the commander of the Anlong Veng guerrilla forces, the brutal one-legged Ta Mok. However, witnesses have already pointed the finger at Loch Mao as the man who fired the shots that killed Howes. I have tracked down this Sunday Times article from veteran journalist Tom Fawthrop, printed in June 1998, that reveals the story of what took place on that fateful day in March 1996.
Khmer Rouge defector named as Briton's killer - by Tom Fawthrop, Sunday Times, 14/06/1998
Scotland Yard detectives investigating the murder of Christopher Howes, the British mine clearance expert, by the Khmer Rouge, have been told that the killer was a former guerrilla commander who has since defected to the Cambodian army. A witness who took the detectives to the murder scene has claimed that Howes, 37, from Bristol, was shot by Loch Mao, an officer in the former Khmer Rouge stronghold of Anlong Veng. Last week The Sunday Times tracked down Mao, 48, in Anlong Veng and questioned him about Howes’s fate. Mao, who lost a leg in a landmine explosion, confirmed that he had been under the command of a general who interrogated Howes. Asked about Howes’s death, however, he claimed that he knew only what he had been told by the general’s driver. “I never set eyes on the British hostage,” Mao said. Mao is named as a suspect in a report presented by Yard detectives to the Cambodian authorities, who have been urged by the Foreign Office to take action against Howes’s killer. Howes, a former soldier who worked for the Mines Advisory Group, a British charity, was engaged in an operation to clear some of Cambodia’s estimated 10m mines when he was kidnapped with his interpreter two years ago near the temples of Angkor Wat. They were marched through the jungle for three days before his interpreter, Houn Hourth, was killed. Howes was taken to a school at Anlong Veng, where he is said to have been interrogated by General Khem Nguon, the Khmer Rouge’s deputy chief of staff. According to Nget Rim, 48, the general’s chief bodyguard, Howes was killed shortly afterwards. He said Mao, sitting behind Howes, pulled out a Chinese-made .54 calibre pistol, firing once in to the back of his neck without warning, and once into his back. It is understood that Mao has been identified as the killer by at least two other witnesses, including the general’s driver. The witnesses accompanied detectives and George Eggar, the British ambassador in Cambodia, to the school and showed them the spot where Howes’s body was later burnt.
7 May 2008: Fourth arrest in Howes murder case
There's been another development in the Christopher Howes murder case today with the news that a 4th former Khmer Rouge soldier, Sin Dorn, was arrested Friday in the former Khmer Rouge stronghold of Anlong Veng in northern Cambodia and is being held in Phnom Penh pending a trial date, which has still to be fixed. The charges against Sin Dorn, 52, are premeditated murder of Howes (pictured above) and his Cambodian translator Houn Hourth as well as illegal confinement of both men and with being a member of rebel forces. The British de-miner from Bristol and his colleague were abducted and killed a few days later in March 1996. In a surprise development in November last year, three other former communist rebels, mastermind Khem Nguon, Loch Mao, and Chep Cheat, were arrested and charged over the kidnapping and murder of Howes and Hourth. Khem Nguon, who served as number 2 to the notorious one-legged KR commander Ta Mok, had defected from the KR to join the Cambodian armed forces where he was awarded the rank of brigadier-general in the defence ministry. The others became civil servants. All four men face 20 years in prison for premeditated murder and 10 years for illegal confinement if convicted. Families of the victims filed the original complaints in the Siem Reap provincial court, but long delays forced the transfer of the cases to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court and we now await the start of the trial.
18 May 2008: Another arrest in Howes case
Developments in the Christopher Howes murder case continued this weekend with the arrest of a fifth former Khmer Rouge cadre on charges of premeditated murder and illegal confinement. Fifty-two year old Puth Lim was detained in Kampot, near the south coast on Friday and joins four of his former KR colleagues under lock and key in Phnom Penh, pending a trial date. Puth is alleged to be the driver of the man, Khem Nguon, who is widely believed to be responsible for the death of Howes and his translator Houn Hourth a few days after their abduction in March 1996. Nguon served as number 2 to the notorious one-legged KR commander Ta Mok before his defection from the KR to join the Cambodian armed forces where he was awarded the rank of brigadier-general in the defence ministry. However, in a surprise move in November last year, Nguon and two other former communist rebels, Loch Mao (believed to be the man who shot Howes in the back), and Chep Cheat, were arrested and charged over the kidnapping and murder of the Bristol-based de-miner and his colleague. A fourth suspect, Sin Dorn, was arrested and jailed pending the trial only last week. All five men face 20 years in prison for premeditated murder and 10 years for illegal confinement if convicted.
17 September 2008: Howes trial update
I've been waiting patiently for developments in the trial of the alleged killers of British deminer Christopher Howes and his Cambodian interpreter Houn Hourth, who were murdered in cold blood a few days after their abduction by the Khmer Rouge in March 1996. Today's Phnom Penh Post carries the story that the Municipal Court in Phnom Penh may open the trial of five former Khmer Rouge guerrillas sometime this month, but more likely the beginning of October. In a surprise move last November, three ex-rebels were arrested and charged with the kidnapping and murder of the two deminers, the alleged mastermind Khem Nguon, Loch Mao and Chep Cheat. Nguon, who served as number 2 to the notorious one-legged KR commander Ta Mok, had defected from the rebels to join the Cambodian armed forces at the end of 1998, and was awarded the rank of brigadier-general in the defence ministry. The others became civil servants. Loch Mao has been identified as the man who is believed to have shot Howes in the back. Two other arrests were made in May this year, of Sin Dorn and Puth Lim. All five men face 20 years in prison for premeditated murder and 10 years for illegal confinement if convicted. They have been held at Prey Sar prison since their arrests. The names of the killers had been known to the Cambodian authorities for many years but the appetite for taking former Khmer Rouge cadre into custody only gathered steam with the progress of the Tribunal and the arrest of senior KR leaders. Twelve years after the murders of Christopher Howes and Houn Hourth, we may just see justice prevail at long last.
3 October 2008: Lest we forget
Today was the long-awaited trial day for the five former Khmer Rouge cadre accused of kidnapping and murdering British de-mining expert Christopher Howes and his Cambodian translator Houn Hourth in March 1996. I have covered the events of the abduction and the subsequent rumours, lies, alleged sightings and false alarms that followed before the true fate of both men was established a couple of years later. Bristol-born Christopher came from my neck of the woods in England and so I have concentrated on him to a large extent in my previous postings. However, we must not forget his heroic translator Houn Hourth, who stayed with his technical advisor when the rest of their de-mining team were released, only to lose his life shortly after, when the Khmer Rouge decided he'd outlived his usefulness. His widow, Chhun Kham was at today's trial, which I also attended, and gave a statement about the impact on her life of her husband's death, asking the court to jail the people responsible and to award her appropriate compensation for their actions. Life has been tough for Hourth's widow and in her statement she reiterates; "Since my husband's death, my family has endured great hardship by lacking money to support the studies of my two sons, clothes, and enough nutition and when occasionally my sons get sick, I have no money to pay for medical bills, so that I need to borrow from someone for this payment. Nowadays, I don't have a job besides selling vegetables at Boeung Chhouk market in Battambang province." Houn Hourth was part of the Mines Advisory Group de-mining team that was helping to make Cambodia a safer place when he was kidnapped and murdered, he deserves justice and so does his widow.
3 October 2008: Justice on trial
A long day in court today came to a messy conclusion at 7.05pm when the presiding judge Iv Kimsry announced the trial of the 5 Khmer Rouge cadres accused of murdering Briton Christopher Howes and his Cambodian translator Houn Hourth, would be adjourned until 8am on 14 October. Throughout the day, which began at 8.10am at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, the judge had looked set on concluding the trial in just one day as all five defendants answered questions about their role in the abduction and murder of the two members of the MAG demining team that were kidnapped on 26 March 1996 and killed a few days later. Evidence was presented, witnesses called, statements read out and closing arguments heard from both the defense and prosecution before the three judges decided enough was enough and adjourned. All five defendants pleaded their innocence, instead claiming the order to kill and the actual shooting of Bristol-born Howes was in fact the responsibility of two other Khmer Rouge guerrillas, both of whom are conveniently dead. The blame for ordering Howes' death was laid at the feet of Khem Tem, who died in a car accident near Surin in Thailand in June 2007, whilst Soeun Rim was fingered as the man who shot Howes in the head from close range, and who died in a landmine incident in 2004.
The man who many believe supervised the killing of Howes and was the last person to speak with him, Khem Nguon, cut a frail and pathetic figure in court, a far cry from the swaggering media-hungry opportunist who led the final draft of Khmer Rouge soldiers to defect to the government in December 1998. Nguon, now 59 years of age and who collected an amnesty and a Brigadier-General posting in the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces for his defection, shuffled into court at 2.30pm with a hearing-aid in his left ear, and within the hour had collapsed into the arms of security personnel, requiring support from his two children. He also shunned the limelight of his former Khmer Rouge noteriety, refuting suggestions that he was Ta Mok's No 2, instead promoting Khem Tem to that lofty position, and claiming he merely offered advice to farmers. Like his fellow defendants, Nguon claimed memory loss, blamed others and wriggled his way out of any suggestion that he had organized the killing of Christoper Howes. Meanwhile, Loch Mao, who was in the frame as Howes' killer and had admitted as much in an earlier interview, said his gun failed to fire when he aimed it at Howes' chest and that the Briton was already dead from a fatal shot from the gun of Soeun Rim. The other defendants, Puth Lim who was Nguon's driver, Sin Dorn and Chep Cheat allegedly played lesser roles but still face murder charges.
Included amongst the witnesses were former Cambodian intelligence chief Colonel Dom Hak, Scotland Yard detective Mike Dixon and members of Howes' MAG demining team. It was Dixon who interviewed many of the key faces in the murder inquiry on behalf of the British Embassy in 1998 and who recovered Houn Hourth's skull from the village of Kul in July 1999. It was alleged that Hourth had been murdered by a cadre called Han after he was deemed surplus to requirements, whilst Howes had been taken to Anlong Veng, kept in a school before he was shot and his body burnt a few hundred yards from the home of Ta Mok. It would be another two years before forensic evidence identified bone fragments belonging to Howes and confirmation of his death given to his parents. Howes' father Roy was not well enough to attend today's trial and he was represented by Lou McGrath OBE, the Chief Executive of MAG. However, both families of the murdered deminers will have to wait a little while longer to see if justice is delivered as the verdict from the presiding judges will be announced on 14 October.
5 October 2008: Ramblings from the court
Okay, I'm going to ramble on a bit here but I wanted to get down some thoughts from the murder trial I attended on Friday, here in Phnom Penh. It was the first murder trial I've been to, my only other experience at court was a juror on an open and shut death inquest many years ago, so I'm a virtual novice and like most people, I'm ashamed to say my only experience of courts is from the television.
I found the Khmer courtroom a relaxed and very different place from my little experience of a British courtroom. Not austere at all and so relaxed that at a break in proceedings, when the rain on the corrugated rooftop made it impossible to hear what was being said, the blue-uniformed defendants were allowed to wander around the small room, mingling with their family and friends. There was one prison warder for the five defendants, though I did clock two army personnel with AK-47 rifles standing in the shadows outside. During the hearing and after they'd answered questions, the defendants squatted on a tiny wooden bench at the front of the courtroom with their back to everyone except the three presiding judges. Each of them looked frightened by the ordeal, cowed and apologetic in their body language and far removed from their alleged status as cold-blooded killers. Khem Nguon, who was the leader of the last remnants of the Khmer Rouge guerrillas to surrender to the Cambodian government a decade ago looked anything but the strutting, media-courting individual that enjoyed the high profile he achieved after his former bosses, Pol Pot and Ta Mok, lost favour in the die-hard guerrilla hierarchy. He lent heavily on the 'invalid card' complaining of hearing difficulties and at one point collapsed whilst giving evidence even though the judges had offered him a chair. His two grown-up children were allowed to administer help to their frail-looking father. His blue prison outfit was 'less uniform' than his fellow defendants and I got the vibe that he receives a different level of treatment than they do, though as a man with connections and a former brigadier-general in the Army, that shouldn't come as a surprise. And don't forget, he is afterall, innocent until proven guilty.
That brings me to some real concerns that I have. The whole trial was conducted in Khmer. A friend accompanied me to the court - I arrived at 11.30am, more than three hours after it had begun - so I missed a big chunk and as I don't understand Khmer, I had to rely on my friend's translation. And she is not a translator. However, I felt I got the gist and that gist did not overwhelm me with the weight of evidence against the accused. This was a murder and abduction trial yet much of the evidence consisted of uncorroborated hearsay and interviews that were conducted a decade ago without witness statements being signed or thumb-printed at that time. The men admitted to being present either at the kidnap or at Christopher Howes' death. In their view, that was their level of involvement, and at all times they were acting under orders from superiors, which would've meant death if they didn't do as they were told. None of them admitted to being in charge or of pulling the trigger. But then I didn't expect them to, its the prosecution's job to present that evidence, and I didn't feel convinced they did that. But this is not a case where the prosecution has to convince a jury. It will be the decision of the three presiding judges as to whether the evidence is good enough to convict on the charges of kidnap, murder and membership of an outlawed group. As for their interpretation of the evidence and exactly how much evidence is required to convict at a Cambodian trial, we will have to wait until 14 October to find out.
What else did I glean from proceedings? Well, there was no forensic evidence produced in court and there was no positive identification of the accused by members of the MAG demining team that were kidnapped at the same times as Christopher Howes and Houn Hourth. The investigation by the Cambodian intelligence officers and British police that were sent to assist a decade ago appeared to be more of a fact-finding exercise than a formal police-style enquiry. They obtained statements from key witnesses at that time, including some of the defendants, but now standing in court some ten years later, their stories had changed, their memories had faded and the blame for the order to kidnap and kill was laid at the door of two guerrillas who have subsequently died. How convenient. As I said I wasn't overwhelmed by the weight of evidence. It was flimsy at best. If convictions are achieved, they may be for conspiracy or of a lesser sentence than originally hoped. Who can tell, second-guessing Cambodian judges is not, and never will be, an exact science.
What did really annoy me though was the relaxed nature of the trial. I know its Cambodia and everything is easygoing but this was a murder trial, not a petty bag-snatch. Mobile phones were not switched off, and even the defense and prosecution team received incoming calls and left the room whilst proceedings continued. It was really disconcerting. The security personnel were the worst culprits, their phones were the loudest and they constantly left the door open, so the honking horns and traffic sounds from the street flooded through the courtroom and drowned out the evidence being given. The judges appeared determined to finish the case in one day. They rattled through the defendants testimony and then the witnesses with much haste, questioning was basic and lacking any depth, closing statements were less than passionate by both the prosecution and defense teams and the decision to adjourn pending the verdict came quickly and was almost lost in the frenzy of everyone trying to leave the court, with proceedings ending at just past 7pm in the evening. However, I was pleased to see a couple of members of the British press in court, Tom Bell (Daily Telegraph) and Ian MacKinnon (The Guardian) had made the trip from Bangkok to be present and MAG's Chief Executive Lou McGrath OBE had flown over from the UK to witness the proceedings. Now we must wait until the judges deliver their verdict on 14 October. It's been a wait of 12 years for justice for Christopher and Hourth - we can wait a little longer.
13 October 2008: Awaiting justice
Tomorrow morning at 8am in the courtroom of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, the three presiding judges led by Iv Kimsry will deliver their verdict against the five defendants charged with the abduction and murder of British deminer Christopher Howes and his Khmer translator Houn Hourth more than twelve years ago. Although the five men who stand accused - Khem Nguon, Loch Mao, Puth Lim, Sin Dorn and Chep Cheat - were identified a decade ago by a joint Cambodian and British investigation team, it took until November of last year for the right climate to prevail and for the authorities to arrest and detain the alleged perpetrators. The 1-day trial of the five men took place on Friday 3 October when the court questioned all five defendants, heard from witnesses including members of the investigation team and listened to closing arguments by both prosecution and defense counsel. The verdict will be determined by the evidence that the presiding judges have already seen in private, allied to what took place in court. The delay in bringing the accused to court meant two of the key perpetrators died before they could be arrested. The five men face 20 years in prison for premeditated murder and 10 years for illegal confinement if convicted. For me this murder case is personal. I never met Christopher, who was killed in March 1996 after his abduction, but I was affected by his disappearance, both because he was a fellow Brit in Cambodia - I first visited Cambodia a couple of years before his murder - and also because he came from Bristol, just twenty minutes drive from my own home. I was in contact with his parents at the time and two years later they invited me to attend a memorial service in his honour though regrettably I wasn't able to go. The two deminers died whilst trying to rid Cambodia of the scourge of landmines - something that upset the Khmer Rouge hierarchy and signed their death warrants - and they deserve justice, more than twelve years after their deaths.
14 October 2008: Guilty of murder
It took less than ten minutes for head presiding judge Iv Kimsry to call the court to order and to announce the verdict against the five defendants in the Christopher Howes and Houn Hourth murder trial this morning. The five accused were led into the tiny courtroom at 8am, ordered to stand and Iv Kimsry read out the verdicts against each of the defendants, announcing guilty verdicts for four of them and an acquittal for a fifth. He also ordered three of them to pay $10,000 in compensation to the widow of Houn Hourth. It was justice, finally, for the families of the two men who were kidnapped, alongwith their demining team, in March 1996 and brutally killed a few days later. Houn Hourth was murdered when it was decided his translating skills were no longer of use, whilst Christopher was taken to Anlong Veng, interrogated and then taken out and shot in the head. His body was doused in petrol and burned. Two years later, British police visited the scene and collected DNA evidence that confirmed his death.
The guilty verdicts and twenty year jail sentences were handed down to Khem Nguon, who was known to be the 2nd in command of the Khmer Rouge forces at Anlong Veng behind his mentor Ta Mok, Loch Mao, who witnesses identified as the man who shot Christopher, and their driver Puth Lim, who admitted to being present at the murder and to burning the body. A fourth defendant, Sin Dorn was found guilty of kidnapping the deminers and received a ten year jail sentence. A fifth man, Chep Cheat was acquitted of all charges.
Immediately after the verdicts, the Mines Advisory Group, the charity for whom Christopher and Hourth were working at the time of their murder, released a statement from Christopher's sister, Patricia Phillips. "My father Roy Howes and I welcome the verdict of the court and feel that at last justice has been done. Although we never sought revenge, we are pleased that the murderers of Christopher and Hourth have been brought to account. I am just sorry that my mother, who sadly died in 2007, has not lived to see that justice has finally been done. We are enormously proud of Christopher - he did not leave his team although he had the chance. Such actions when you know the danger you are faced with, take an enormous amount of courage. He was an extraordinarily brave man, dedicated to assisting the people of Cambodia to rid their country of landmines and was awarded the highest posthumous award for his bravery, the Queen's Gallantry Medal, in 2001." Hourth's widow Chhun Kham when asked by reporters about the compensation award, said: "money cannot compensate for my husband's life." Christopher was 37 years old and Hourth just 30 when they were killed.
The investigation work completed a decade ago by the Cambodian team working alongside the British police led by Mike Dixon, put together much of the evidence and witness statements which persuaded the three presiding judges of the guilt of the accused. Investigating judge Iv Kimsry had spent the last year and a half involved in examining the evidence and the guilty verdicts announced today were the result of that painstaking work behind the scenes. I attended the 1-day trial on 3 October and heard just the tip of the iceberg of evidence that weighed against the accused men, all of whom denied the charges against them. Today, the court delivered the guilty verdict twelve years after this brutal crime, bringing closure for the families of the deceased men.
14 October 2008: Houn Hourth
Whilst the media have concentrated on the story of Christopher Howes, the British deminer who was kidnapped and murdered by the Khmer Rouge in March 1996, his interpreter Houn Hourth, who was also brutally murdered, has remained largely in the shadows. In the wake of the guilty verdicts handed this morning to three former Khmer Rouge cadre for the murder of the two Mines Advisory Group charity workers, I spoke briefly to the widow of Hourth, Chhun Kham, about her husband. "He was 30 when he was killed. He had worked for MAG for about a year in Battambang, where he was born in O Dambong village. Before working for MAG, he worked at the Thai-Cambodia border area as a driver and as a translator, and that's where he learned his English. We were married in April 1985 and we had two children together. The two boys are now 23 and 18 years old. We still live in Battambang city." Now 39 years old, Chhun Kham was satisfied with today's verdicts but for her the death of her husband and loss of her children's father will never go away. When asked by reporter's for her comments on the presiding judge's award of $10,000 to be paid to her by the three men found guilty of murder, she replied; "money cannot compensate for my husband's life." If she ever receives the compensation amount, she told me that she would like to build a small house.
Hourth and Christopher were abducted by Khmer Rouge guerrillas in March 1996 whilst on a demining mission in Siem Reap province. Hourth stayed with his British technical advisor when the rest of their MAG demining team were released, only to lose his life shortly after, when the Khmer Rouge decided he'd outlived his usefulness. At the trial on 3 October, it was revealed that Cambodian intelligence officers and British police detective Mike Dixon interviewed many of the key witnesses in 1998 and who recovered Hourth's skull from the village of Kul in July 1999. It was understood that Hourth had been murdered by a cadre called Han after he was deemed surplus to requirements, whilst Howes had been taken to Anlong Veng, kept in a school before he was shot and his body burnt a few hundred yards from the home of Ta Mok. At the time of the trial, Chhun Kham gave a statement about the impact on her life of her husband's death, asking the court to jail the people responsible and to award her compensation for their actions. "Since my husband's death, my family has endured great hardship by lacking money to support the studies of my two sons, clothes, and enough nutition and when occasionally my sons get sick, I have no money to pay for medical bills, so that I need to borrow from someone for this payment. Nowadays, I don't have a job besides selling vegetables at Boeung Chhouk market in Battambang province." Today the widow and family of Houn Hourth received some justice for his murder twelve years ago and the compensation will help if it's ever received, but it will never make the pain of his loss go away.
14 October 2008: Courtroom mumblings
It was all over in ten minutes. The three presiding judges filed in, called the court to order and signalled the corrections official to bring in the five men accused of murder and abduction. Khem Nguon brushed past his fellow captives with a large manila envelope covering his face from the telephoto lenses of the press photographers at the court gates. His four co-defendants shuffled in behind him, looking cowed and fearing the worst. They were followed in by members of their families looking equally downcast. The Nguon family bodyguard plonked his large frame down next to me on the wooden seat at the rear of the tiny courtroom. On the other side of me was Phnom Penh Post reporter Georgina Wilkins. Lead judge Iv Kimsry wasted no time in announcing the outcome of his deliberations following the full-day trial on 3 October, handing out guilty verdicts and jail sentences of twenty years to Khem Nguon, Loch Mao and Puth Lim for the murder of Christopher Howes, whilst Sin Dorn was jailed for 10 years for his part in the kidnapping of the MAG demining team. A fifth defendant, Chep Cheat was acquitted for his part in the kidnap. The judge announced that the three accused of murder must also pay a total of $10,000 between them to the families of the deceased. Everything that was said by the judge was in Khmer. My own translator was late arriving for the announcement and just caught the last few seconds of Iv Kimsry's verdicts, so I had to wait until the courtroom cleared to glean the full details from the MAG Country Programme Manager Rupert Leighton, who sat in court with Elizabeth Evans from the British Embassy. Georgina looked as equally perplexed as I did, but had her Khmer colleague to rely on for the facts. As soon as the judge had stopped talking, the majority of the fifty people in the courtroom bolted for the door. Before the accused men, dressed in blue regulation prison uniforms, were allowed to leave the room, they had to sign and thumbprint a record card and were then escorted outside to sit on benches at the back of the Municipal Court yard, where family members crowded around them to offer condolences and food. Khem Nguon, regarded as the man who supervised the murder, was comforted by his two children, but well away from the prying eyes of the photographers. Khmer press reporters attempted to get interviews with the prisoners as they awaited transportation back to Prey Sar prison but only Puth Lim seemed willing to talk, claiming his innocence. I grabbed a few minutes with Chhun Kham, the widow of Houn Hourth to speak to her about her husband before BBC reporter Guy De Launey arrived and interviewed her briefly, though she looked ill at ease, and Rupert Leighton, who handed out a prepared statement from MAG and Christopher's family. Soon after, the scene was quiet again, the press had packed up and left and the only people remaining were the prisoners, who would begin their new jail sentences as soon as their corrections van was ready to leave.
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