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Hopes dashed for release of expat hostages

Hopes dashed for release of expat hostages

H OPES that at least one of the three foreigners taken hostage on Route 4 to

Sihanoukville would be released after nearly two months were dashed early last

week. The much-anticipated release was supposed to have taken place on June

6.

"We were hoping to hear something at least today, but nothing's

happened yet," said David White, a friend and business partner of two of the

hostages, on June 7.

Lieutenant General Heng Hak from the Ministry of

Interior and National Security also reportedly said he had heard that the

captors agreed to release one hostage the previous day.

But days passed

and nothing happened. Said Briton David Chappell, father of Dominic, one of the

hostages: "They're trying to pressure us by building up false hopes."

Dominic, 25, his Australian girlfriend Kelly Wilkinson, 24, run Cafe

Rendevous in Sihanoukville. They were snatched from their taxi just south of the

Sre Ambel turnoff on April 11 along with their British friend Tina Dominy, 23.

The media descended on Sihanoukville in some numbers on the strength of

the rumors of an imminent release. Some Australian television crews even flew in

from Hong Kong. The Seaside Hotel became the center of media operations. It lies

next to Villa Rendevous guesthouse which is run by White and was where Kelly's

father Peter and Chappell senior were staying.

A senior police official

in Sihanoukville said he had heard the proposed release would take place near

Kampot. "We sent someone to verify the claim personally, but by the time he

could return the word had spread," he said.

According to the police

officer, there has been little contact with the captors since the

abduction.

A monk who was acting as an intermediary was reportedly also

taken hostage early last month, though the abduction did not emerge until June

4.

The three are thought to be held in a known Khmer Rouge area in the

foothills of the range of mountains separating Kompong Som and Kampot provinces.

Police officials believe the captors are not isolated bandits but are at least

associated with the Khmer Rouge.

"They operate secretly, and do not want

the world to know that they are the kidnappers," one senior official said.

Contact has been mainly through villagers in nearby areas, not through

officials.

"At first we were not even sure whether they were alive, but

now our sources in the villages tell us they definitely are," the official said.

Earlier, last fortnight, these villagers apparently said that one of the

hostages was ill. Medical supplies from the Australian Embassy were sent in with

the villagers but it is not known if they reached the hostages.

Khmer

Rouge nominal leader Khieu Samphan late last month denied that the group had

anything to do with the abduction. There has been no other way of identifying

the captors.

Ransom demands have been toned down, according to police

sources in Sihanoukville. Earlier, the demand was for $150,000 - $50,000 for

each of the captives.

"They are softening their conditions," a police

official said, but refused to specify further. He added that there is little

chance that ransom money will be paid.

Police are unwilling to speculate

about when a release is likely.

They say that in the earlier kidnapping

of American Melissa Himes, there had been far more contact with the

abductors.

 

"We just cannot predict the situation clearly, we hope it will not be long,"

a police official said.

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