27 July 1995
CAMBODIA: TRIAL OF KILLER OF MS KELLIE WILKINSON
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said today that it was satisfied at the outcome of the trial and sentencing of Chan Mean, one of the murderers of Ms Kellie Wilkinson and her companions.
Some media reports of the case have unjustifiably criticised the Government for not protesting the release from custody of Chan Mean following his arrest in mid-April.
The facts are that there was confusion about the identity of the accused (he went under several names). He was arrested on 17 April and subsequently released because the police lacked sufficent documentation to hold him. Because of the remoteness of the location of the arrest and poor communications in Cambodia, the Australian Embassy in Phnom Penh became aware of those events only on 16 June. Even then, it was still unclear that Chan Mean was the person for whom a warrant had been issued in connection with the Wilkinson murder. As soon as the possible identity of Chan Mean became apparent, the Embassy made representations to the Cambodian authorities and Chan Mean was re-arrested on 22 June.
There has also been some criticism of the Australian Ambassador Mr Tony Kevin for not making an Australian Embassy interpreter available to the family of one of the British victims, Dominic Chappell, at the trial on 26 July. The Department can provide the following clarification:
The Australian Ambassador travelled to Sihanoukville to monitor the trial on behalf of the family of the Australian victim, Kellie Wilkinson, and the Australian Government. The British Embassy was also represented at the trial to look after the interests of the families of the two British victims.
Although he speaks some Khmer, it was necessary for Ambassador Kevin to use his interpreter to follow the detail of the trial and to provide a full record of proceedings in order to fulfil his responsibilities towards the Wilkinson family. He met that responsibility fully. Yesterday this Department had two separate conversations with Mrs Wilkinson (who did not go to Cambodia for the trial) to report on what had happened.
Reports that the court asked that the Embassy interpreter be made available to translate Mr Chappell's evidence are incorrect. The Chappell family made the request during the course of the trial and the Ambassador was obliged to decline it because it would have impeded the Ambassador's ability to meet his responsibility to monitor the proceedings. Had the Ambassador been aware of the need for an interpreter for the British family he would, of course, have tried to accommodate that request as a courtesy. In the event, a translator from a television station translated Mr Chappell's evidence into Khmer.
By prior arrangement, the British Embassy representative was given access to the Australian Embassy interpreter throughout the trial (seating was limited on the chartered plane from Phnom Penh). Ambassador Kevin has also offered the Embassy's transcript of the proceedings to the Chappell family.