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Wednesday, 22 May, 2002, 07:47 GMT 08:47 UK
Khmer Rouge rail murder arrest
Mark Slater and Jean Michel Braquet
Two of the three tourists murdered in 1994
A former Khmer Rouge commander has been arrested in Cambodia in connection with the murders of three Western backpackers in 1994, military officials said.

Sam Bith, who was made a general in the Cambodian army after defecting from the Khmer Rouge in 1996, was arrested in the north-western province of Battambang.

"Sam Bith was arrested this morning by Cambodian police officials and he has already been brought to Phnom Penh," Co-Defence Minister Tea Banh told French news agency AFP.

Sam Bith, photographed in 1999
Sam Bith has denied the charges
A warrant was issued for Sam Bith's arrest in 1999, after he was charged in relation to the abduction and murder of Australian David Wilson, Frenchman Jean-Michel Braquet and Briton Mark Slater.

At least 10 Cambodians were also killed when a train they were travelling on was ambushed by former Khmer Rouge rebels in July 1994

The three foreigners, along with several other Cambodians, were taken to the nearby Vine Mountain rebel base in the southern Cambodian province of Kampot.

They were killed after negotiations for their release broke down.

The Khmer Rouge commander of Vine Mountain, Nuon Paet, was jailed for life in June last year for his role in the affair.

International concern

During his trial, Nuon Paet said that his superior officer, Sam Bith, had ordered the tourists killed.

Sam Bith was a powerful regional commander for the Khmer Rouge and former deputy to its military head Ta Mok.

The arrest comes amid continuing international concern that Cambodia's government is not serious about its commitment to bring former Khmer Rouge leaders to trial.

Negotiations between the UN and the Cambodian Government to set up an international tribunal broke down in February, after UN officials said they were concerned the planned hearings would not meet international standards of justice.

The arrest of Sam Bith coincided with the publication in a Thai newspaper of reports on his lavish home in Pailin, western Cambodia.

A journalist visiting Pailin saw Sam Bith and interviewed the police chief living next door.

The BBC's Claire Arthurs
"British authorities in Cambodian have welcomed the detention of Sam Bith"
See also:

18 Jan 00 | Asia-Pacific
07 Jun 99 | Asia-Pacific
11 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
09 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
16 Nov 01 | Asia-Pacific
10 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
07 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
14 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
02 Jan 01 | Asia-Pacific
13 Jan 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
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