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Four foreigners shot in Cambodia

By TRICIA FITZGERALD

PHNOM PENH, Aug. 27 -- Cambodian police shot four foreigners, wounding three seriously, in two incidents early Sunday morning in which they were mistaken for suspects in an attempted robbery near the home of an official, authorities said. The two Bulgarians, who were not identified, and Briton Steven Gregory James were shot after failing to their motorcycles at a police checkpoint near the home of Second Prime Minister Hun Sen, officials said. Police opened fire, mistaking the three for suspects in an attempted robbery by three men on motorcycles near the official's house, State Secretary for Information Khieu Kanharith said. 'There was an attempted robbery by three men on motorcycles near the house of the second prime minister, Hun Sen, last night, and police established a checkpoint to catch those responsible,' Kanharith said Sunday. 'The three foreigners passed the checkpoint on motos and failed to stop, and police, in a case of mistaken identity, opened fire on the three men.' The Cambodian government 'regretted' the incident, he added. A fourth man, Ian Howothson, who holds dual British-Australian citizenship, received minor injuries including a wound when a bullet grazed his arm, in a separate shooting later at the same checkpoint, Kanharith said. Howothson is acting director of Land Rover in Phnom Penh, he said. The Bulgarians, one of whom is the son of the Bulgarian attache, have suffered serious injuries and are at Calmette Hospital, in central Phnom Penh. One man has bullet wounds to the neck, chest and back and the other suffered severe head injuries after falling off his motorcycle and may need to be evacuated for medical treatment, embassy sources said.

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The injured Briton, Steven Gregory James, an English teacher with the Australian Center for English in Phnom Penh, is also in hospital with a serious wound to the right arm. 'We heard shooting and waited until it had died down and then we drove into a hail of bullets from all sides,' James said at the hospital, Sunday. First Secretary of the British Embassy Les Hartley and a Bulgarian Embassy officer said they would wait for an official report from the Ministry of Interior before deciding whether or not to lodge a complaint on the shooting. Embassy officials said the shootings are likely to be an embarrassment for the Cambodian government, which is keen to promote Cambodia as a safe place for tourism. The incident follows the kidnapping in Phnom Penh of a senior Malaysian executive Aug. 17 by six military police who are now in custody. Observers reported heavy police and military presence outside the second prime minister's house shortly after midnight, and said it is unclear whether the official explanation -- an attempted robbery -- is accurate.

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