Four ex-Khmer Rouge members were found guilty and jailed for the murder of Christopher Howes, head of a Mines Advisory Group (MAG) land mine clearing team in Cambodia, twelve years ago.
Howes and his team of around 30 were kidnapped and when Howe refused to leave his team to collect a ransom, he and his translator were interrogated and shot. The rest of the group were freed.
“Obviously we are very very pleased with the outcome,” MAG Chief Executive Lou McGrath told newstatesman.com. “It's been twelve years and it's been a long hard road. I think this will finally send the message to those who commit crimes against humanitarian efforts: it doesn't matter how long it takes they will be brought to justice.”
Howes' father was instrumental in bringing the murderers to justice, said McGrath. His mother passed away in 2007.
“His father was very vocal all the way through. He has been very good about pushing the Cambodian and British authorities. I'm so happy for him and Howes' sister Pat. It's unfortunate that his mother died last year: the whole situation broke her heart, it would have been nice for her to see that justice was finally done.”
Howes, from Blackwell, joined the MAG in 1993 after gaining bomb disposal expertise during his seven years in the Royal Engineers. He dismantled bombs in Iraq for two years before working in Cambodia for the British-based international charity.
He was abducted near Siem Reap in 1996 and murdered near the 12th century Angkor Wat temple.
MAG has remained in contact with the relatives of Houn Hourth, the translator who was shot alongside Howe. Hourth had a wife and two sons, aged 8 and 10, at the time of his death.
“It was a great struggle for his wife to bring up two young boys. We've tried to support her through this time,” said McGrath. “He was murdered because one of senior officials could speak English. They found no use for him.”
The bodies of Howe and Hourth were burned by their murderers, delaying the discovery of the bodies for two years. Five ex-Khmer Rouge officials were finally arrested last year.
McGrath attended the trial in Cambodia. “There was a concern as the most senior officials were at the trial. There was a feeling that that might effect the outcome. Last night when I heard they were found guilty I was very relieved.”
The Khmer Rouge's military commander, on orders from Pol Pot, wanted Howes killed because they believed that foreigners in the country were helping the Cambodian government. The men on trial accused another former guerilla, who has since died, of firing the shot that killed Howes.
Three men were jailed for 20 years and a fourth for 10 years, while a fifth man was acquitted.
Howe was posthumously awarded the Queen's Gallantry Medal in 2001. MAG continues to work in Cambodia.