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Friday, 6 September, 2002, 08:21 GMT 09:21 UK
Cambodia guerrilla leader gets life
Backpacking victims Jean-Michel Braquet [l], David Wilson [c] and Mark Slater [r]
The three Western tourists were murdered in 1994
A Cambodian court has sentenced a former Khmer Rouge leader, Chhouk Rin, to life in prison over the abduction and murder of three Western backpackers.

The ruling followed an appeal by families of the victims against an amnesty that allowed Chhouk Rin to walk free after being found guilty of the charges in 2000.

Chhouk Rin was not present at the hearing, and his lawyer told the Associated Press news agency that he would appeal to the Cambodia's Supreme Court, his last possible legal avenue.

Chhouk Rin
Rin was convicted in absentia but is expected to appeal his re-conviction
He and other Khmer Rouge members had been convicted of kidnapping and murdering Briton Mark Slater, Frenchman Jean-Michel Braquet and Australian David Wilson in 1994 after ambushing the train on which the three were travelling.

"Since Chhouk Rin was the commander who sent his troops to participate in the train attack" he was responsible for the murders, appeals court chief Judge Somreth Sophal said.

Chhouk Rin told AFP news agency from his hideout in Kampot, southern Cambodia, on Friday that he was still considering whether to hand himself over to the authorities.

But he insisted that the verdict was wrong.

"I didn't do it... This is an injustice for me."

The appeal against Chhouk Rin's release was filed by the father of French victim, who was present in court along with his lawyer to hear the verdict read out.

"Finally, justice has been done," Mr Bracqet said.

Brutal killings

The three backpackers were travelling between the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh and the southern city of Sihanoukville when their train was ambushed by Khmer Rouge guerrillas, who killed 10 Cambodians and kidnapped the three men.

Photographs of victims of the Khmer Rouge
As many as two million Cambodians were killed by the Khmer Rouge

The three were held ransom for two months in the nearby Vine Mountain rebel base in the province of Kampot.

When ransom negotiations fell through the three were beaten to death by their captors.

The Cambodian courts has taken action against two other Khmer Rouge commanders for their role in the backpacker murders this year.

International pressure

The life sentencing of Nuon Paet, who was jailed for life in June, was upheld by the Supreme Court on Wednesday, and another commander, Sam Bith, was arrested in May and is in jail awaiting trial.

However, there is continuing international concern that Cambodia's Government is not serious about its commitment to bring former Khmer Rouge leaders to trial.

The BBC's correspondent in Cambodia, Claire Arthurs, says many people believe the prosecutions for the train murders are an isolated example and the result of pressure from three Western governments, all donors to Cambodia's national development programme.

The Khmer Rouge regime, led by the late Pol Pot, is believed to have been responsible for as many as two million deaths during its brutal rule in the 1970s.

The BBC's Larry Jagan
"Two years ago a municipal court acquitted Chhouk Rin of murder - this decision has now been overturned"
See also:

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