Life sentence upheld for French backpacker killer

5th April 2005, Comments 0 comments

PHNOM PENH, April 5 (AFP) - Cambodia's Court of Appeal on Tuesday upheld a life sentence against former Khmer Rouge commander Sam Bith for his role in the 1994 killings of three Western backpackers, a judge said.

PHNOM PENH, April 5 (AFP) - Cambodia's Court of Appeal on Tuesday upheld a life sentence against former Khmer Rouge commander Sam Bith for his role in the 1994 killings of three Western backpackers, a judge said.

The court began hearing an appeal filed by Sam Bith on March 29, even though his lawyer requested a delay because his client was hospitalised in Phnom Penh and could not attend court.

Sam Bith, 72, and his lawyer did not appear in the court during the hearing or for Tuesday's verdict.

Sam Bith was sentenced to life in prison in 2002 by Phnom Penh municipal court on six charges including premeditated murder, illegal detainment of a person, and acts of terrorism.

"During the incident Sam Bith was ordering (the attacks) directly," judge Saly Theara, one of three judges hearing the case, said. "The lower court's decision is correct."

"The court upholds the verdict dated December 23, 2002 by Phnom Penh municipal court."

The court also ordered Sam Bith to pay KHR 80 million (EUR 15, 600) compensation to Jean-Claude Braquet, father of slain French national Jean-Michel Braquet, who traveled routinely from France to Phnom Penh for the legal proceedings.

Australian David Wilson, 29, Briton Mark Slater, 28, and Braquet, 27, were abducted from a train after it was attacked while travelling between Phnom Penh and the southern port city of Sihanoukville in 1994.

Thirteen Cambodians also died in the attack, and the Westerners were held for two months by Khmer Rouge rebels before ransom negotiations collapsed and they were killed by their captors.

The murders triggered an international outcry and opened a long and emotional legal wrangle that has forced the victims' parents to travel several times to Cambodia for court hearings.

George Cooper, a representative for Slater's family, welcomed the verdict.

"This is what we were looking for," he said, adding compensation was of little interest to the family.

Sam Bith's lawyer Nou Chantha told AFP he would appeal on the grounds his client was absent because he was hospitalised.

Sam Bith had high blood pressure and diabetes, making him unable to speak or leave his bed, his lawyer said.

"I will ask the court to reopen its hearing of the case because they opened the trial without my client's presence at the court," Chantha said.

Khmer Rouge commander Nuon Paet was jailed for life in 1999 for his part in the 1994 murders.

The Supreme Court last month upheld a lower court's guilty verdict for Chhouk Rin, Nuon Paet's former deputy. However, Chhouk Rin remains free and has challenged Cambodian police to arrest him.

Nuon Paet reported to Sam Bith when the Westerners were kidnapped and was charged with their murders in 1999.

Sam Bith said he was hospitalised in Thailand at the time of the kidnappings, and that Khmer Rouge supremo Pol Pot had removed him from his position, according to his testimony at the lower court.

But judge Saly Theara on Tuesday said there was no evidence to support the suggestion.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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