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 Monday, 23 December, 2002, 05:03 GMT
Life for Khmer Rouge commander
The three victims: Jean-Michel Braquet, David Wilson and Mark Slater
The three Westerners were ambushed from a train
A court in Cambodia has sentenced a former Khmer Rouge general to life imprisonment for his part in the killing of three Western backpackers.

Sam Bith after Monday's guilty verdict
Sam Bith said he would appeal
Sam Bith, 69, was the most senior of three Khmer Rouge commanders charged with abducting the tourists after an attack on a train in southern Cambodia in 1994.

The backpackers, a Briton, a Frenchman and an Australian, were later executed and buried in the jungle, several weeks after ransom negotiations failed.

At least 10 Cambodians were also killed in the attack on the train.

"This is an injustice and I will appeal to the court of appeal," said Sam Bith after he was found guilty on six different charges, including conspiring to commit murder, abduction and terrorism.

He also argued that it was pointless to jail him for life, because he does not expect to live for more than five years.

Sam Bith is in poor health, suffering from a heart complaint, diabetes and a tumour on his back.

Earlier trials

Sam Bith, who was arrested in May after eight years on the run, had been charged with kidnapping, conspiring in premeditated murder, terrorism and robbery.

Australian David Wilson, Briton Mark Slater and Frenchman Jean-Michel Braquet, all aged in their late 20s, were abducted on 26 July, 1994.

Sam Bith had been the commander of the area in southwestern Cambodia where the train was ambushed.

However, he had argued in court that he had been transferred away from the area a month before the attack took place.

Khmer Rouge General Nuon Paet was jailed for life in June 1999 for his role in the case. The Supreme Court later turned down an appeal against his conviction.

Another officer, Colonel Chhouk Rin, was sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment in September, but has vowed to appeal against the sentence.

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

The communist Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia for four bloody years from 1975-1979, during which an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians were executed or died from starvation and overwork.

After the Khmer Rouge was driven from power, it kept up a guerrilla war from the jungle, until its leaders gave up and sought amnesties in the late 1990s.

  The BBC's Jonathan Head in Bangkok
"He is the most senior Khmer Rouge commander to be convicted in a Cambodian court"
See also:

13 Dec 02 | Asia-Pacific
22 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
06 Sep 02 | Asia-Pacific
11 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
16 Nov 01 | Asia-Pacific
10 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
07 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
07 Jun 99 | Asia-Pacific
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