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Cambodia hostages feared murdered

There were grave fears last night that Mark Slater, the Briton captured by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia three months ago, and his two Western travelling companions, have been murdered.

A grim account of the fate of Mr Slater, 28, David Wilson, 29, an Australian, and Jean- Michel Braquet, 27, a Frenchman, came from Gareth Evans, Australia's Foreign Minister, in Mongolia's capital, Ulan- Bator, where he is on an official visit. Mr Evans said: 'We have received some rather distressing reports, which are unhappily very credible but not yet finally confirmed, that David Wilson and his two fellow hostages were in fact killed by the Khmer Rouge General Paet and his followers some time last month'.

Speaking with apparent distress, Mr Evans said that the Australian authorities were working with the Cambodian government to established the facts surrounding the latest reports as soon as possible.

'We have made it absolutely clear to the Cambodian authorities, and will again, that Australia expects those reponsible for the hostages' abduction to be brought to justice. If David Wilson and his friends have been murdered, as we desperately hope they haven't been, then we cannot, and will not, accept anything less than the murderers being brought to justice,' he said.

The three hostages were abducted in July while travelling by train. They have since made various pleas, through videotapes, for their release. The last confirmed message that they were alive came when a videotape message was delivered to a newspaper in Phnom Penh on 2 September.

Mr Evans did not disclose his sources but they are understood to have come from Khmer Rouge military personnel who have recently defected to the Cambodian government. The information on which Mr Evans based his announcement is understood to have included grid references for where the hostages' bodies were reportedly buried.

Australian authorities alerted Mr Wilson's family in Melbourne before Mr Evans made his announcement and moves were being made to inform the families of Mr Slater and Mr Braquet. A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs in Canberra said last night: 'At this stage, we are not prepared to make any comment on the fate of the hostages. We have grave concerns, but that is as far as we can go.'