ISLANDER FOUND GUILTY IN 2002 NEW CALEDONIA MURDER

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SUVA, Fiji (Oceania Flash, Dec. 13) – A jury in New Caledonia's capital Nouméa has on Wednesday found an islander from the Isle of Pines (off Nouméa) guilty of the gruesome murder of a Japanese tourist, Mika Kusama, whose body was found on the island in May 2002.

Antoine Kohnu's elder brother, Ambroise, who was also accused, was finally found not guilty.

The defendant's lawyer Jean-Jacques Deswarte told local media, immediately after the verdict, that it was his intention to appeal the sentence and that he would like the appeal case to be heard outside of New Caledonia where, he said, pressure had been overwhelming.

The verdict, the result of a decision reached by the 9-member jury, was handed down and read by French judge Roland Potée, before a packed Nouméa tribunal, where families from the defendant had come in support.

The victim's parents had travelled all the way from Japan to attend the trial and provide testimonies.

Early May 2002, the partly-charred and half-naked body of 29-year-old Japanese tourist Mika Kusama, who had gone missing a few days before, was found on the Isle of Pines (a popular island South of the capital Nouméa).

Her body was found close to the Island Resort, grossly concealed under a layer of branches, on a small island rock called Kanumera.

The body was partly charred and stones had been placed around it, forming a sort of circle.

The victim had been seen earlier walking hand in hand with a young local, police said.

Resort staff said the young woman was quite fluent in French.

Soon after, French police arrested the Kohnu brothers.

The case had also at the time sent shockwaves back in Japan, one of New Caledonia's major tourism source markets, forcing New Caledonia destination promoters to reassure the usually safety-conscious Japanese tourists that New Caledonia was still safe as a destination.

Destination Nouvelle-Calédonie, the French territory's destination promoter, had also at the time labelled the incident a "catastrophe".

New Caledonia is one of the favourite Pacific destinations for Japanese tourists, who appreciate both the "Pacific paradise" touch, combined with the "French touch".

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