Saturday, July 22, 2006

Cheating Justice

Fears that Ta Mok, known as 'The Butcher,' wouldn't live to see the tribunal to prosecute the surviving Khmer Rouge leaders, have come to fruition with his death today in a military hospital in Phnom Penh. Having been captured in 1999 and detained for crimes against humanity, the 82 year old had been suffering from respiratory problems and high blood pressure before lapsing into a coma. With his death, another member of the top-ranking Khmer Rouge hierachy has avoided facing trial - Pol Pot, Son Sen and Ke Pauk have already died - leaving just a handful of potential suspects, most of whom still live freely in Cambodia.

Ta Mok, real name Chhit Choeun, had a reputation as a fierce and brutal leader formed by the purges he implemented on behalf of Pol Pot. After their ousting from power in 1979, he established a guerrilla stronghold in Anlong Veng, as well as logistical bases in Sisaket province in Thailand with the help of the Thai military. For many years he occupied a mansion in the Thai town of Khukan and operated a lucrative trade in smuggling logs from Cambodia. Later he became a partner in at least three Thai petrol stations. In 1997 he split from Pol Pot, whom he put on trial, though he was forced to flee across the Thai border a year later, before the Thai military finally gave up their support for him and he was captured. Ta Mok is known to be directly responsible for many deaths, the most high profile was that of British de-miner Christopher Howes in 1996. Howes worked for the Mines Advisory Group and was kidnapped and executed in Anlong Veng on the orders of Ta Mok by men under his command. Ta Mok's untimely death has cheated the Cambodian people of justice against one of the most feared Khmer Rouge leaders, though he was defiant to the last that he had done no wrong. History will record otherwise.

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