Cambodian PM's outrage on hostages

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PHNOM PENH - Cambodia's Prime Minister, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, criticised the Australian, French and British governments yesterday for 'complicating' efforts to free three Western hostages who are being held by Khmer Rouge guerrillas in the southern province of Kampot.

'The hostages said Please, please, please pay the ransom. Your governments said no, no no. I'm very upset. I'm very fed up,' he said after arriving home from a five-day official trip to Malaysia.

The prince spoke to the Australian, French and British ambassadors at Pochentong Airport for about five minutes after his arrival. He described as 'illogical' the course of action advocated by the foreign governments to free the three captives. The three governments would not endorse paying a ransom but were also opposed to military action to pressure the Khmer Rouge captors, he added.

Mark Slater, 28, from Northamptonshire, Jean-Michel Braquet, 27, from Roquebrun Cap Martin and David Wilson, 29, from Melbourne, were taken hostage on 26 July after a Khmer Rouge train ambush in southern Kampot province in which 13 people died. Asked about prospects for their release, Prince Ranariddh replied: 'We were in the process of releasing them, but now, too many cooks spoil the cuisine.'

The backpacker travellers were heading for the southern coastal town of Sihanoukville, renowned for its unspoilt beaches and tropical scenery. They are being held along with three ethnic Vietnamese and up to 10 Cambodians at a Khmer Rouge stronghold called Vine Mountain, 90 miles from Phnom Penh. After their capture, a message was received from the Khmer Rouge seeking a payment of dollars 150,000 ( pounds 98,000) for their release.

Diplomats and security experts warned that payment could trigger a more kidnappings.

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