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Two Cambodian accused of murdering sentenced to imprisonment

No witnesses could help the 20-year jail sentences for two men accused of murdering a prominent labor leader. A Cambodian appeals court on Thursday upheld guilty verdicts.

Born Samnang, 25, and Sok Sam Oeun, 38, have maintained their innocence in the 2004 shooting death of Chea Vichea, who headed Cambodia's Free Trade Union of Workers. The slain man was an outspoken critic of government corruption and human rights abuses.

Cambodian and international human rights groups have campaigned for the two convicted men's freedom, saying Cambodian authorities have ignored evidence proving their innocence and made them scapegoats to conceal the real killer.

Despite the questions over the case, Saly Theara, an Appeals Court judge, ruled Thursday that the municipal court's decision was valid and upheld the 20-year sentences. He did not elaborate.

The latest ruling "is very unjust and politically biased," the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, a coalition of 23 non-governmental organizations, said in a statement Thursday.

The group said the judge ignored many alleged irregularities in the case, including the falsification of evidence and the use of threats by the police to obtain a confession from one of the accused.

"Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun, who have already unfairly served 1,170 days in prison, should be immediately released," the statement said, appealing to the police to seek and bring the real killers to justice.

Va Sothy, the former owner of a newsstand where Chea Vichea was killed, has said in a statement that she saw a different man shoot the union activist. She fled from Cambodia, saying she feared for her life, and has since been settled in an unidentified third country.

She never testified at any of the court hearings.

As he was escorted by prison guards into the courtroom before the appeals hearing last Friday, Sok Sam Oeun, with tears in his eyes, shouted that the current government was "no different from the Khmer Rouge regime" for jailing him.

The Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia in 1975-79, during which about 1.7 million people died from execution, overwork, disease and malnutrition.

It was not clear whether the two men would appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.

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