Acquittal For Khmer Rouge Vet

Dave Price stirs a pot of Jambalaya with Andy Fontenot of the Jambalaya Shop looking on, July 26, 2006, in Baton Rouge, La.
CBS/Dan Baruch
A former Khmer Rouge commander accused in the 1994 murders of three Western tourists was acquitted Tuesday when a court ruled that he is covered by a law granting amnesty to guerrilla defectors.

Chhouk Rin faced six charges, including murder and kidnapping, in connection with the deaths of Briton Mark Slater, Frenchman Jean-Michel Braquet and Australian David Wilson.

But Thong Ol, the judge in the Phnom Penh court, said Chhouk Rin was not guilty because of the amnesty law. The 1994 statute granted an amnesty to Khmer Rouge communist guerrillas who defected to the government side within six months of it taking effect.

Cambodia’s Troubled Past

1953…King Norodom Sihanouk declares independence from France.
1965…Cambodia breaks diplomatic ties with U.S.
1969-1973…U.S bombs suspected communist Vietnamese supply routes in Cambodia.
1970…U.S.-backed General Lon Nol overthrows Sihanouk and becomes president. Chasing Vietnamese troops, U.S. invades Cambodia.
1975…Khmer Rouge (KR) captures Phnom Penh.
1975-78…Under the rule of Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, between one and three million die by summary execution, starvation or disease.
1978…Vietnam invades Cambodia. KR flees to countryside.
1982-1989…A coalition army of KR troops and forces loyal to King Sihanouk fight with Vietnamese for control of Cambodia.
1989…Vietnamese withdraw.
1990…UN peace plan accepted by four fighting factions.
1993…First elections held. KR continues to fight for control of northern territory.
1997…Second Prime Minister Hun Sen seizes power in what critics call a coup.
1998…Pol Pot dies. Hun Sen’s party wins national electons. Major defections by KR members.
1999…Int’l community and Cambodian government discuss launching a tribunal into KR atrocities.

(Sources: Lonely Planet, Human Rights Watch.)size>

Up to 2 million people died during the 1975-1979 reign of the Khmer Rouge (meaning "Red Khmers" or "Red Cambodians"), a peasant army led by Pol Pot that attempted to create an agrarian, Maoist Utopia.

As Thong Ol read out his verdict, Chhouk Rin's relatives in the courtroom clapped their hands and wept with joy.

A lawyer for te plaintiffs—the families of the victims—said they were "disappointed that Chhouk Rin has been allowed off on a technicality."

"It would have been preferable to have had a decision on the evidence rather than relying on a piece of legislation in Cambodian law which has yet to be properly analyzed," said William Woodrow, the lawyer for David Wilson's family.

The three young men were killed at Phnom Vour—Vine Mountain—in southern Cambodia after Khmer Rouge fighters ambushed the train on which they were traveling and kidnapped them on July 26, 1994.

Chhouk Rin was commander of the Khmer Rouge soldiers who attacked the train and killed the three tourists and 13 Cambodian passengers. He defected with some 200 soldiers before Phnom Vour fell to government troops several months later, and was afterward made a colonel in the Cambodian army.

One Khmer Rouge commander has already been tried and convicted in the slayings of the young tourists and another remains at large despite a long-standing warrant for his arrest.

Several victims' family members, including Wilson's and Braquet's fathers, attended Chhouk Rin's hearing. At one point during defense testimony, Jean-Claude Braquet shouted angrily at Chhouk Rin's lawyer.

The plaintiffs have the right to appeal to a higher court. Woodrow, the lawyer for Wilson's family, said the plaintiffs had not yet decided whether to do so.

Asked his reaction to the verdict, Chhouk Rin said it showed that Cambodia's courts are fair and not swayed by political pressures.

His judgment is not shared by human right groups: Some are concerned that the government may unduly influence planned trials of Khmer Rouge leaders for crimes against humanity committed when they ruled Cambodia in the late 1970s.

According to United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Hans Corell, the U.N. and Cambodian government have agreed on terms for a tribunal of former Khmer Rouge members. The Cambodian legislature was to approve the plan for a tribunal run by Cambodia with U.N. participation.