NEW CALEDONIAN ACQUITTED OF MURDERING TOURIST

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Appeals courts reverses earlier guilty verdict

NOUMEA, New Caledonia (Oceania Flash, April 29, 2009) – An appeal jury in New Caledonia's capital Nouméa has on Tuesday acquitted an islander from the Isle of Pines (off Nouméa) who had earlier been found guilty of the gruesome murder of a Japanese tourist, Mika Kusama, whose body was found on the island in May 2002.

In December 2007, as a result of the initial trial, Antoine Kohnu was found guilty and sentenced to 15 years of jail.

His elder brother, Ambroise, who was also accused, was finally found not guilty.

The victim's parents had one again travelled all the way from Japan to attend the two-week trial and provide testimonies.

Reacting to the latest ruling, Mika Kusama’s mother, in tears, told local media outside the court through an interpreter that she was "sorry to hear this outcome, this is not what we had expected … But we want to thank everyone here who has helped us".

A committee had also been set up locally in support of the Kohnu brothers.

Gruesome discovery

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 was at the time one of the favourite Pacific destinations for Japanese tourists, especially young couples who flocked there en masse to get married.

However, over the past few years, the favourable trend has steadily dwindled at a rate of about fifteen percent over the past three years.

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