Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Guilty of murder

Murdered Briton, Christopher Howes
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 (pictured right) 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.

For more on Christopher Howes, please visit my website


Blogger Andy Brouwer said...

Shot charity worker was 'exceptional, brave' - By Andy McFarlane, BBC News

The jailing of four men in Cambodia for killing British charity worker Christopher Howes ends his family's 12-year quest for justice.

A plaque in a Phnom Penh street is the only physical reminder of the senseless killing of a Briton who wanted only to make Cambodia a safer place.

Christopher Howes had been clearing explosives for the charity, the Mines Advisory Group (MAG), in north-west Cambodia when he and his interpreter Houn Hourth were kidnapped and killed in 1996.

The 37-year-old charity worker was shot in the back by members of the notorious Khmer Rouge and his body burned immediately denying him a decent burial.

So it was with pride and comfort that his parents, Roy and Betty, were told a boulevard would be renamed Christopher Howes Street in their son's memory.

His family had suffered two hellish years of uncertainty after his disappearance, before the Foreign Office finally confirmed his death. His heartbroken mother died in May 2007.

His sister Patricia Phillips told the BBC News website: "Chris was an exceptional, brave man, a good son and brother, and a tragic loss to us, and to the humanitarian cause to which he was devoted."

She recalled how the family had initially been relieved when he had gone to work in Cambodia, after a stint in Iraq clearing mines. "We thought he was safe, but that turned out to be wrong," she said.

She said that in Cambodia her brother had been able to move around freely and would call his family from restaurants.

Even after hearing of his kidnap, the family had been offered false hopes numerous times. "There was a lot of false information about Christopher being alive and brought out of the jungle," said Mrs Philips, of West Yorkshire.

"When we finally heard that Chris and Houn had been killed soon after their capture, it came as a terrible shock," she said.

'Agony and anguish'

At this month's trial, Chistopher's father made a simple plea: "We seek not revenge, but justice in their names."

His statement told how his son's kidnap on 26 March 1996 had devastated the family."We spent more than two years of agony and anguish not knowing whether Christopher was alive or dead," he said.

When told of his murder, their "terrible anger" at his killers was tempered by relief at finally knowing he was in peace.

Christopher's actions before his death were also a source of pride.
Thirty armed Khmer Rouge guerrillas had emerged from the forest to surround his team.

When told to retrieve the ransom his kidnappers demanded, Christopher refused to leave his team and instead negotiated their release. Only he and his interpreter died. In 2001, this bravery was recognised through a posthumous Queen's Gallantry Medal.

Army career

Christopher's journey to south east Asia had begun in his childhood home in north Somerset.

A keen Scout, his love of outdoor pursuits - he was a horseman and enjoyed orienteering - inspired him to join the army aged 17.

He served two tours of the Falklands with the Royal Engineers during the early 1980s, where Carol Stewart-Reid has fond memories of the handsome young sapper with the keen sense of humour.

"He was very much the gentleman and my parents were quite taken with him," she said.

"He earned the nickname 'tapeworm' because of the amount he ate. He was particularly fond of cake and when he got home he posted some to our house with a note saying it was 'a little repayment'."

In seven years with 33 Regiment, Christopher served in Northern Ireland, Belize and Germany and became an expert at bomb disposal.

Humanitarian mission

After leaving the army, Christopher was inspired to use his talents to protect civilians during a spell in Kuwait where he cleared the desert to allow others to tackle the oilfield blazes after the first Gulf War.

In 1993, he snubbed the more lucrative commercial sector to join the Mines Advisory Group (MAG), as founder Lou McGrath recalls.
"Chris preferred to focus on the humanitarian side and found it much more rewarding," said Mr McGrath.

While clearing unexploded ordinance strewn around the mountainous Northern Iraq during the war with Iran, he won over the Kurdish locals by helping in community projects such as digging wells.

"It's not enough to defuse bombs, you have to connect with people and Chris's sense of humour helped him do that," said Mr McGrath.

Two years later, Christopher joined MAG's efforts in Cambodia - a country reeling from both the death of 1.7 million people under the Khmer Rouge and 30 years of conflict.

"No family was untouched by the genocide and Chris was very committed to helping them," said Mr McGrath.

But it was here in Cambodia that Christopher and his interpreter were to meet their deaths.

While the verdicts may finally bring the family some closure, their pain at losing Christopher may be shared in Cambodia for some time yet.

October 14, 2008 11:08 AM  
Blogger Andy Brouwer said...

Cambodia killers 'should never come out of jail' says father
- Evening Post, Bristol, UK

The father of a North Somerset mine expert who was captured, executed and then crudely cremated by Cambodian rebels believes the four men jailed for his son's murder "should never come out".

Christopher Howes, 37, from Backwell, and his interpreter, Houn Hourth, were abducted by Khmer Rouge guerrillas and then killed while working in north-west Cambodia in 1996.

Mr Howes was advising the Mines Advisory Group, a British-based humanitarian mine-clearing organisation, when he was seized.

Three of the captors were jailed for 20 years on Tuesday by a court in Phnom Penh for their part in the murders. A fourth is starting a 10-year sentence, while a fifth man was acquitted.

The court heard that Mr Howes was offered a last meal of forest fruit before he was murdered and then burned on a diesel-soaked woodpile.

His father, Roy Howes, 85, who struggles to speak due to illness, said: "I'm delighted. They are wicked men – the very worst. I hope they never come out, I hope we will never see them again."

Christopher's sister, Patricia Philips, said: "My father and I welcome the verdict of the court and feel that at last justice has been done.

"Although we have never sought revenge, we are pleased that the murderers have been brought to account. I am just sorry that mother, who sadly died in 2007, has not lived to see that justice has finally been done.

One of the defendants, Khem Ngun, admitted that he was responsible for transporting Mr Howes to the execution site, but denied he had prior knowledge of a plan to kill him. Khem Ngun, Loch Mao and Put Lim were present when Mr Howes was executed in the middle of the night in Anlong Veng, the court was told.

They were each sentenced to 20 years in prison. Sin Dorn was convicted of being involved in the early stages of the abductions and was sentenced to 10 years.

October 14, 2008 5:59 PM  
Blogger Andy Brouwer said...

Past catches up with Khmer Rouge killer - by By Guy De Launey
BBC News, Phnom Penh

Khem Ngoun had swaggered into Phnom Penh's Municipal Court as if he were considering buying the place.
He stood slightly apart from the other four defendants and held a fuchsia-coloured hand towel to mop his brow. Even his blue, prison-issue pyjamas were of a different design and a better fit than those his former Khmer Rouge colleagues were wearing.

His initial appearance at the court earlier this month suggested that Khem Ngoun still saw himself as a powerful man, one who deserved more respect than to be charged with kidnapping and murder. But his 20-year sentence confirms that former Khmer Rouge leaders should no longer feel safe from prosecution.

Top catch

It is not the first time that a former Khmer Rouge member has been found guilty in connection with the organisation's activities in the 1990s.
But Khem Ngoun was very close to the top of the hierarchy before the Khmer Rouge disbanded 10 years ago. He was the right-hand man to the military chief Ta Mok, and played a part in the internal coup which ousted the long-time leader, Pol Pot.

When the Khmer Rouge disbanded in 1998, an agreement with the government meant that many former members took high-ranking posts in civilian life or the military. Khem Ngoun became a brigadier general in the Cambodian army, and lived unmolested until his arrest last year.

Mood shifts

The authorities had long shown little enthusiasm for charging senior Khmer Rouge figures. The memories of a three-decade-long civil war were too fresh, and the organisation's surrender too recent, to consider risking stirring up trouble again.
But at last the mood has changed, and Khmer Rouge leaders are being called to account.

Five of them are being held in custody at a United Nations-backed tribunal, charged with crimes against humanity.

Progress towards trials there has sometimes seemed painfully slow. But Khem Ngoun's conviction has raised hopes that justice may no longer be so elusive.

He was found to be responsible for giving the order to shoot Chris Howes, days after he was kidnapped while leading a mine-clearance operation near the town of Siem Reap 12 years ago.

The court also ordered Khem Ngoun to pay $10,000 in compensation to the widow of Chris Howes's Cambodian interpreter, Houn Hourth.

Fitting tribute

Their former employer, the Mines Advisory Group (Mag), was delighted with the verdict. "I think it's very important for the Cambodian justice system in as much as it's proof that justice can be done despite lengthy periods between crime and court," said the director of Mag's Cambodian office, Rupert Leighton.
"I think it's also a good signal for the tribunal, and a healthy sign for the justice system in Cambodia."

It is also, perhaps, a fitting tribute to two men who sacrificed their own lives to save their colleagues. The Khmer Rouge unit which ambushed the Mag team led by Chris Howes gave him the chance to walk free, if he returned to his office for ransom money. Fearing for his workmates' safety, he refused.

While more than 20 de-miners were later released or escaped, Chris Howes and Houn Hourth were taken to the Khmer Rouge stronghold of Anlong Veng, where Khem Ngoun decided their fate.

It took more than two years, and the intervention of a team of investigators from Scotland Yard, before their deaths were confirmed.

One of Phnom Penh's smartest streets was re-named in honour of Chris Howes. It serves as a reminder of the bravery of the mine clearance experts who have risked their own lives to make Cambodia a safer place.

October 14, 2008 9:48 PM  
Blogger Andy Brouwer said...

Press Release from FCO:
Christopher Howes murder trial: Minister welcomes guilty verdict (14/10/2008)
FCO King Charles Street, Crown Copyright

Commenting on the sentencing of those responsible for the kidnapping and murder of Christopher Howes, Bill Rammell said:

'I welcome the guilty verdicts and sentences handed down today by a Cambodian court in the trial of those responsible for the kidnapping and murder of Christopher Howes and Houn Hourth in 1996. The verdict brings to an end 12 years of uncertainty for their families. It is a tribute to the determination of the Howes family and the Mines Advisory Group (MAG), who have worked tirelessly to ensure that the perpetrators of these crimes were brought to justice. Our deepest sympathy remains with the families of the victims.

I would also like to express appreciation to the Cambodian government and justice system for their support in bringing those responsible to trial, and to the Metropolitan Police for their assistance over many years in the investigation.'

October 15, 2008 2:01 PM  

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