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Cambodia: Sam Bith Sentenced to Life

A Cambodian court has sentenced Khmer Rouge regional commander Sam Bith to life in prison for his role in a 1994 train ambush. The ambush led to the deaths of at least 10 Cambodians and three Western backpackers.

Sam Bith was found guilty of murder, kidnapping, robbery, organizing an armed group, terrorism and destroying public property. The judge ruled that he was responsible for ordering the train attack, as well as the murders of Australian David Wilson, Briton Mark Slater, and Jean-Michel Braquet, from France.

"This is a very significant step forward in achieving justice in this case and it's something the Australian government has been working towards for a very long time," said Louise Hand, the Australian ambassador to Cambodia.

Sam Bith mumbled to reporters as he was being taken from the courtroom that the verdict was not just and that he would appeal.

After the train attack, the passengers were taken to the Khmer Rouge base at Vine Mountain in the southern province of Kampot and held hostage. The bodies of the three Westerners were found after a government raid on Khmer Rouge forces.

The judge sentenced Sam Bith to life in prison. He also ordered Sam Bith and his subordinate, Nuon Paet, to pay compensation to the victims. Nuon Paet was sentenced to life in prison earlier, and testified against his former commander.

The verdict Monday is the third conviction in the case. Former commander Chhouk Rin was convicted earlier in the murders but is appealing. He claims that Khmer Rouge supreme leader Pol Pot, who died in 1998 in a hideout on the Thai border, ordered the killings.

The extreme Maoist Khmer Rouge controlled Cambodia in the late 1970's, and was responsible for the deaths of more than a million people. After being ousted from power, the Khmer Rouge fought a rebel war until the mid-1990's.