Another British Victim Murdered by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.
Above Photo: Other continuing dangers in the Cambodian countryside (AFP).
In 1996, Christopher Howes, a British mine clearance expert, was working in Cambodia with the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) not far from the Angkor Wat temple complex.
Although the Khmer Rouge had been deposed by the Vietnamese army in 1979 , in 1996 they were still fighting a murderous terrorist campaign in the Cambodian countryside, actively supported and funded by China, Thailand and other countries, with the US the UK and many other countries shamefully looking the other way (at best).
Howes was leading a mine clearance team near Siem Reap, when he, his interpreter Huon Hourth, and the rest of his MAG team were kidnapped by a group of 30 armed Khmer Rouge who appeared from out of the jungle.
They were held in a local village before Howes was given the chance to leave captivity to negotiate a ransom for the hostages. He refused this chance to escape, so he could better-ensure the safety of his team.
Everyone was eventually released except for Howes and his translator, who were driven to the northern Cambodian town of Anlong Veng in the Khmer Rouge heartlands close to the Thai border, where I recently travelled around on my Cambodian Khmer Rouge journey.
Not long after they were captured, the order was passed down by Pol Pot for them to be shot, on the grounds that foreigners in the country were helping the Cambodian government. The interpreter was shot first, deemed “no longer necessary”, because one of the Khmer Rouge captors could communicate with Howes in English.
Howes was interrogated at a school, then loaded on a pick-up truck and driven into the night. While senior Khmer Rouge figures watched from the darkness, he was made to sit in the pool of light from the truck’s headlights and given some fruit to eat. Then, on the count of three, he was shot through the head, execution style.
Howes’ fate remained a mystery for two years. Rumours circulated that he was still alive, and that he had escaped and was a fugitive in the Cambodian jungle with a manacle still around his wrist.
Those rumours were dispelled when Scotland Yard detectives investigating his disappearance discovered fragments of bone in a fire that the Khmer Rouge had lit, using fence posts and petrol, to cremate Howes’s body. The morning after the murder, the killers had also sifted the ashes for bone fragments, which they presented to the Khmer Rouge leaders as proof that Howe’s was dead and disposed of.
It was only after the final collapse of the Khmer Rouge regime in 1998, and with the defection of most of its guerrillas, that it was confirmed Howes had been murdered.
In a country outrageously shy of bringing Khmer Rouge murderers to justice, it was another 11 years before five former Khmer Rouge cadres were arrested in Anlong Veng and charged with the murders. It was believed the killers escaped justice because they had risen to positions of power and influence following the end of Cambodia’s civil war.
Four surviving members of the gang, including Brother Number 4, Ta Mok’s Chief of Staff, Khem Ngoun (see above photo), who subsequently became a Brigadier General in the Cambodian Army, were tried in 2008, with three of the accused receiving 10 – 20 year jail terms for conspiracy to murder, and one of them was set free.
All the defendants alleged that another, then-dead Khmer Rouge cadre, had fired the fatal shot.
Howe’s decision to stay with his MAG team and not take flight earned him a posthumous Queen’s Award for Gallantry, and his bravery was also commemorated by the naming of a street after him in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh.
Whether other Khmer Rouge murderers and mass murderers, still living in the freedom their victims were denied, will ever be brought to justice is doubtful. But the Khmer Rouge sub-plot in my novel BACK will, hopefully, help keep alive their crimes and serve as a reminder of their virtual untouchability under the present Cambodian government.
Our new film, M.I.A. A Greater Evil. Set in the jungles of Laos and Vietnam, the film deals with the possible fate of US servicemen left behind after the US pulled out of the Vietnam War.
See the trailer for our new film, M.I.A. A Greater Evil.
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© Peter Alan Lloyd
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