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Ex-Khmer Rouge Commander Loses Appeal

November 5, 2003

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) _ A Cambodian appeals court on Wednesday upheld the conviction of an ex-Khmer Rouge commander in the 1994 murder of three Western backpackers.

Chhouk Rin, 50, was found guilty by the same three-judge panel that convicted him last year in the deaths of the young tourists from Australia, France and Britain. He had been sentenced to life in prison.

Samreth Sophal, the head of the Appeals Court panel, said there was sufficient evidence to prove Chhouk Rin was guilty of three charges _ premeditated murder, intentionally causing destruction of property and illegal detainment. An additional charge of terrorism, for which he was found guilty in his earlier trial, was dropped.

Defense lawyer Puth Theavy said he would appeal to the Supreme Court within 60 days and that Chhouk Rin would remain free until then.

``Today’s ruling dealt an extreme injustice for my client,″ he said.

Chhouk Rin was not present for the verdict. Puth Theavy said his client was not feeling well and was resting at a guesthouse.

The French and Australian ambassadors attended.

``Can somebody be happy after such a drama?″ said French Ambassador Andre-Jean Libourel. ``I’m very confident that ... Chhouk Rin will have to pay for his crimes.″

Australian Ambassador Annabel Anderson called the ruling ``a great step forward in finally bringing to account those responsible for the kidnap, the abduction and the murder of the hostages back in 1994.″

Chhouk Rin’s unit of Khmer Rouge guerrillas was accused of abducting Australian David Wilson, Frenchman Jean-Michel Braquet and Briton Mark Slater during an attack on a train on July 26, 1994, in which scores of Cambodians were killed.

The guerrillas demanded a $150,000 ransom from the government, and killed the three after three months of fruitless negotiations.

Chhouk Rin repeatedly said he knew nothing about the train ambush plan or the conspiracy to kill the backpackers. He said he was hospitalized before and after the ambush.

The court acknowledged that Chhouk Rin may not have directly participated, but said he did order his forces to join other units in ambushing the train.

Chhouk Rin was a midlevel commander at a Khmer Rouge stronghold in Phnom Voar, 60 miles southwest of Phnom Penh, when guerrillas attacked the train bound for Cambodia’s southwestern coast.

Chhouk Rin defected to the government before its troops captured Phnom Voar. His lawyer has argued he can’t be held responsible for the killings since he had received amnesty before Phnom Voar’s fall.

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