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KR thought to be holding Belgian couple

KR thought to be holding Belgian couple

A

BELGIAN couple, who went missing in remote Preah Vihear province, are being

held by the Khmer Rouge, possibly at Anlong Veng, a UN officer investigating the

case believes.

Major Jan Wanderstein, a UN MLT officer and one of Phnom

Penh's few expat Belgians, was asked by Brussels to probe the disappearance of

Michel Baran, 31, a UN economic researcher with Escap and his girlfriend

Nathalie Roobaert, 21.

They went missing on May 23 on a visit to Preah

Vihear temple which lies on the Thai border.

Wanderstein said: "I have

reason to believe that the Belgian couple is being held by the Khmer Rouge and I

think they were brought to another area such as Anlong Veng. Therefore I'm

rather optimistic and I think that sooner or later we will start receiving

signals about their whereabouts.

"I don't think the RCAF are involved in

the kidnapping. They are doing their best to help us and the nearest

RCAF-checkpoint is situated more than 15 km from the temple.

The missing

couple were last seen by Thai troops on the road to the temple on the Thai side

of the border and their car was found two days later on the temple parking

lot.

"Everybody knows that there is only one road leading to the temple

and that it is very difficult to approach the complex through the jungle. That's

why I strongly believe that my compatriots are being kept by the Khmer Rouge

because it is this organisation that is currently occuppying the temple.", the

major said

"Since then nobody recieved any news anymore. I personally

went up the Preah Vihar province to investigate the case and talked there with

several provincial and army officials but nobody could give me any

news.

"At the end of this week I plan to interview a couple of KR

soldiers who just recently deserted their units in the Preah Vihear

area."

There has been no authenticated contact with kidnappers, though

there has been a hoax call.

Major Wanderstein said: "A couple of weeks

ago the sister of Nathalie Roobaert received a phone call from a man who claimed

to be one of the kidnappers but we do not take this phone call seriously. We

think he was just trying to extort [cash from] the family and we don't even know

wether the man called out of Thailand or out of Cambodia."

Others

associated with the case have questioned whether the couple are still alive and

point out that the KR have formally denied being behind their disappearance.

Some say the kidnappers may be bandits acting independently.

Sources

close to the investigation said Baran was known to be deeply interested in Khmer

and Thai culture and may have believed he could get permission from the Khmer

Rouge to visit the temple. It was a popular attraction for visitors until it

fell to the guerrillas last year soon after the polls.

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