Tuesday, October 14, 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 (pictured) 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.
[photo courtesy of Mrs Chhun Kham]

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