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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Three held over Cambodia killing

Three people have been arrested in connection with the death of a British man in Cambodia, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has said.

Mines clearance expert Chris Howes, 37, from Backwell near Bristol, was killed after being kidnapped in 1996.

Mr Howes, and his interpreter Houn Hourith, were abducted while clearing mines for a British-based aid agency.

The FCO said it welcomed the arrests, but could not comment further during the investigation.

We have never, ever recovered from this. The pain is permanently with us

Roy Howes

News agency AFP reported that a Cambodian military general was amongst those arrested.

Khem Ngun was charged on Tuesday with pre-meditated murder, it reported the Khmer-language Rasmei Kampuchea as saying.

At the time the communist Khmer Rouge were battling government troops in the final years of Cambodia's civil war.

Mr Howes was given the chance to leave his kidnapped team of 20 deminers from the Mines Advisory Group to retrieve a ransom, but refused.

Embassy pleased

Associated Press also said Khem Hgun had been arrested, and named another detainee as Loch Mao.

Mr Howes' 80-year-old father, Roy, told AP that he was pleased with the arrests, not only for himself and the interpreter's family, but also "for the people of Cambodia".

"These people have wrecked my family. We have never, ever recovered from this. The pain is permanently with us."

The British Embassy in Phnom Penh welcomed the arrests, a spokesman said.

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Ailing Khmer Rouge leader hospitalised in Cambodia

PHNOM PENH (AFP) - Ailing Khmer Rouge leader Khieu Samphan, whose imminent arrest by Cambodia's UN-backed genocide court is widely expected, was hospitalised Wednesday in Phnom Penh, authorities said.

Surrounded by officials and soldiers armed with automatic weapons, the Khmer Rouge's former head of state appeared frail as he walked on his own from a vehicle into a building that houses the hospital's CAT Scan machine.

Prime Minister Hun Sen said he ordered the French-educated radical to be flown from his home in the former rebel stronghold of Pailin, in northwest Cambodia, to the capital for treatment for high blood pressure.

I have ordered a helicopter to transfer him to hospital," Hun Sen said at a graduation ceremony, adding he did not want the government to be accused of neglecting the health of ailing regime leaders.

"Khieu Samphan is having a health problem. Because (Khieu Samphan) is connected to the tribunal, if he dies it (will) cause problems for us," he said.

His hospitalisation highlights fears for the health of ageing former leaders who are at risk of dying before being brought to trial. At least three other possible defendants are also ill and receiving medical care.

Earlier Wednesday, a family friend who did not want to be named said Khieu Samphan, 76, wanted to be treated in Thailand, but authorities had refused his request.

Khieu Samphan's wife, Sor Socheat, said her husband had an apparent panic attack on Tuesday night.

"He was suffering from high blood pressure but he's back to normal now," Sor Socheat told AFP, adding that her husband had hurt himself as he struggled out of a hammock.

In Phnom Penh, Khieu Samphan's daughter Khieu Maly said her father "felt normal this morning".

"He is okay. My father had no stroke," she said, adding that security forces had provided an escort only and their presence did not indicate that her father had been taken into official custody.

Sor Socheat, who travelled to the capital with her husband, said Khieu Samphan, whose Marxist theories loosely influenced the communist Khmer Rouge's policies, was ready to face court.

"He is not worried about being arrested. He has been ready to face the tribunal for a long time now," she said earlier from Pailin, where Khieu Samphan has lived since surrendering to the government in 1998.

The family friend said Khieu Samphan had been "happily" discussing the tribunal, which was created last year to try former Khmer Rouge leaders for crimes committed during their 1975-79 rule in one of the 20th century's most brutal regimes.

Up to two million people were executed, or died of starvation and overwork when the regime tried to forge an agrarian utopia, abolishing religion, money and schools, and driving much of the population onto vast collective farms.

Former regime foreign minister Ieng Sary and his wife Ieng Thirith, who was social affairs minister, were officially taken into the tribunal's custody late Wednesday following their first judicial hearing since their arrest Monday, tribunal spokesman Reach Sambath told AFP.

The couple was charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity, bringing to four the number of former Khmer Rouge facing the tribunal.

Khmer Rouge ideologue Nuon Chea and prison chief Duch have also been detained.

Tribunal officials have said health issues are adding a growing sense of urgency to the trials, which have already been delayed for years.

Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot died in 1998, one year after Cambodia first sought the United Nation's help in setting up a tribunal to try regime leaders. Another likely defendant, military commander Ta Mok, died in 2006.

Illness has forced court officials to cut short interviews with 81-year-old Nuon Chea who has been plagued by high blood pressure since he was arrested in September.

But Cambodia researchers are sceptical, saying clever defence lawyers are using an age-old tactic to delay prosecution.

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