'Free us' plea from British hostage

KAMPOT - One of three Western tourists held hostage in southern Cambodia by Khmer Rouge guerrillas has made an impassioned handwritten plea for help in gaining their release.

'Please, please, please get us out of here and back to our families and respective countries,' Briton Mark Slater, 28, said in a message scrawled on an invoice for food and medicine received by the trio.

Mr Slater, from Corby in Northants, Jean-Michel Braquet, 28, of France and David Wilson, 29, an Australian, were taken hostage by the Khmer Rouge after their Kampot-bound train was ambushed on 26 July. Thirteen people were killed in the attack and 16 are still held captive, including the three Westerners. Cambodian troops have been deployed around the camp where the three are held, raising fears among diplomats that they could jeopardise negotiations to free the captives.

Some units are within 500 yards of Khmer Rouge positions near their commune at Vine Mountain, 90 miles south of Phnom Penh. 'Now we have a plan to surround the place where they have the hostages and then we will speak to them (the Khmer Rouge) and ask them to be released,' Colonel Som Sokha said from a roadside outpost near Vine Mountain. 'If they don't release the foreigners, we will attack,' he added.

But the Cambodian Prime Minister, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, ruled out an attack. 'Neither the royal armed forces nor the police will take any military or forced action in order to threaten the lives of those hostages. I have to be very clear on this' he said.

In his message, dated 7 August, Mr Slater asked that their families be allowed to pay a ransom if Western governments did not make a monetary settlement.' Do the moral thing and give our families the opportunity to arrange our release,' he said.

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