Cambodia hostages feared dead after human remains are found

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TWO YOUNG Britons and an Australian who were kidnapped in Cambodia by Khmer Rouge guerrillas in April are feared to have been killed, according to the Australian government. The news comes a week after the families of the three hostages flew to Cambodia to appeal for their release, and has shocked relatives, diplomats and the Cambodian police who were dealing with the case.

'I can confirm reports that strong evidence has now emerged that (Australian) Kellie Wilkinson and her two British travelling companions, Dominic Chappell and Tina Dominy . . . are no longer alive,' said Australia's Foreign Minister, Gareth Evans, in a statement yesterday.

According to Mr Evans, fragmentary human remains found near the guerrilla camp where the three were believed to have been held have been brought to London. 'Forensic testing in London has established that the remains are from three Caucasians, including at least one male and one female.' The Foreign Office has confirmed that 'a number of items' are being analysed in London.

Hopes had been high that Dominic Chappell and his Australian girlfriend, Kellie Wilkinson, both 24, and their friend Tina Dominy, 25, would be released after a deal was struck over some form of ransom.

The British and Australian governments had refused to pay the pounds 100,000 in cash demanded by the Khmer Rouge, but were prepared to offer food and medical supplies instead. Mr Evans said the remains, if they did belong to the three hostages, appeared to show they had been dead for some time.

'If the three were indeed murdered shortly after their abduction, their captors have played subsequently an elaborate charade of sporadic and misleading negotiation with the Cambodian authorities and those assisting them. . . They appear to have been the innocent, chance victims of terrorism.'

Mr Chappell and Ms Wilkinson had been running a restaurant in the southwestern port city of Sihanoukville. They were returning to the city from the capital, Phnom Penh, with Ms Dominy and some fresh supplies for their restaurant when their car was stopped in a Khmer Rouge ambush.

The guerrillas ordered the three foreigners out of their car and marched them off into the bush. That was the last time they were seen by outsiders, except for a woodcutter who said he came across them in early May.

The Australian government immediately sent a police team to Cambodia, and several weeks later an officer from Scotland Yard was sent out from London to help in the recovery of the captives. The three were known to be being held on a jungle-covered mountain several miles to the east of the main road from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville. Khmer Rouge guerrillas had maintained a stronghold on the mountain for some time, and the area was surrounded by minefields.

The parents of the three hostages became increasingly frustrated with the lack of information from the British and Australian authorities, and last week they flew out to Cambodia.

They travelled down the Sihanoukville road to the village of Ta Ney, close to the abduction spot, and begged the villagers to help them secure the release of their children. They handed out bags of rice and posters calling for the hostages to be freed.

But soon after they returned to Phnom Penh, they were told that the remains had been recovered by Cambodian police and flown to London for analysis.

(Photograph omitted)