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Australian teen jailed for 13 years over heroin

An Australian teenager who tried to traffic more than two kilograms of heroin into Australia via Hong Kong has been sentenced to 13 years in a Cambodian jail, local media reported on Thursday night.

Gordon Vuong, a 16-year-old Chinese-Australian, was arrested at Phnom Penh International Airport on January 22 with 2.1kg of heroin concealed on his body and was sentenced to 13 years' jail by Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday, the Cambodia Daily newspaper reported.

"The sentence is still light. If he was not a minor, he could face at least 20 years in jail," the paper quoted presiding judge, Kim Sophorn, as saying.

Cambodian-Australian Yen Karat, 26, and Cambodian national Ek Sam Oeun, 47, who are charged with helping to conceal the drugs on Vuong's body, are still in jail awaiting trial.

Vuong's sentence caused outrage amongst civil liberty groups in Australia.

Australian Council for Civil Liberties president Terry O'Gorman said Foreign Minister Alexander Downer should immediately become involved in Vuong's case, given his youth.

Mr O'Gorman urged Mr Downer to appeal to the Cambodian government.

"A juvenile would never receive a sentence of that length in Australia and clearly juveniles have got to be treated differently from adults by virtue of the fact that they are juveniles and haven't matured and grown up," he said.

"So, it is a concerning sentence and it's a sentence that the foreign minister should immediately take up with the Cambodian authorities."

Mr O'Gorman said Justice Minister Chris Ellison should try to have Vuong transferred to Australia to serve out his sentence.

"And if we don't have an international transfer treaty with Cambodia then we should hurry up and get one," he said.

"But the issue of a juvenile being sentenced to such a whacking term is an issue, frankly, the federal government has got to get involved in.

"You wouldn't, under Australian law, get anything like that.

"And to the extent that it's recently been said that: 'Well, we can't interfere with the laws and procedures of another country, in relation to juvenile offenders', well, we should because there are different principles that apply to juvenile offenders from that which apply to adult offenders."

Senator Ellison was unavailable for comment.

An Australian Federal Police spokeswoman said: "The AFP cannot yet confirm the level of involvement in the case." The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) was unavailable to give more information.

Australian diplomats in Phnom Penh declined to comment on the case.

Plea for Australian who faces the firing squad
THE Federal Government will plead for the life of an Australian national sentenced to death in Vietnam for conspiring to smuggle heroin.

Vietnamese state-run radio announced yesterday the 46-year-old Victorian man of Vietnamese origin, Mai Cong Thanh, had been sentenced to death by firing squad.

He had been charged with conspiring with two other Australian nationals to take heroin from Vietnam to Australia.

Justice Minister Chris Ellison said he would be "pulling out all stops" to ensure the sentence was not carried out.

"As to whether he appeals, that is a matter for his lawyers and his own decision but can I say that as is usual, the Australian Government will make earnest pleas, very strong pleas to the Vietnamese Government that the death penalty not be carried out," Senator Ellison said.

"We've done this with other Australian nationals who have faced a sentence of death in Vietnam and Singapore and, of course, in relation to Indonesia as well. We will be pulling out all stops in relation to this issue to ensure that the death penalty is not carried out and that is our standard practice."

The Ho Chi Minh City People's Court heard that Thanh and another two men, also Australian, hid compressed heroin in loudspeakers in order to send them to Australia. Thanh's trial lasted one day.

Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs later confirmed the trial had taken place on Thursday and an official had been attending.

The department was assisting his appeal, a spokeswoman said.

"Appeals must be lodged within 15 calendar days and can take up to four months before being heard," she said. "In practice, it has taken longer than four months in other cases."

Thanh and one of his two accomplices also of Vietnamese origin were arrested at Saigon Port in May, 2003, with nearly 2kg of heroin. One was not tried because he suffered a psychiatric disorder.

The other, Lee Benjamin, is believed to have fled to Australia and Vietnamese police have issued a warrant for his arrest.

Vietnam has some of the toughest drug laws in the world. Those in possession of 300g of heroin or more than 10kg of opium often receive the death penalty.

Senator Ellison said there was no prisoner transfer agreement between Australia and Vietnam.

"We have not commenced discussions with Vietnam in relation to transfer of prisoners but ... certainly we would be interested in exploring it with Vietnam," he said.

Senator Ellison said he also was concerned for a 16-year-old Australian boy sentenced to a 13-year jail term in Cambodia.

Chinese-Australian Gordon Vuong was arrested at Phnom Penh International Airport on January 22 with 2.1kg of heroin concealed on his body.

He was sentenced by Phnom Penh Municipal Court early last month.

"We are certainly addressing the question of transfer of prisoners with Cambodia as well as other areas of cooperation," Senator Ellison said. "That has been a concern of mine and the department is looking at what arrangements we can put in place in relation to that particular instance."

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