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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Aus senators wrap up year-long hostage probe

Aus senators wrap up year-long hostage probe

C ANBERRA - An Australian parliamentary inquiry into the execution of three foreign

backpackers at Phnom Vour near Kampot in 1994 has found that ultimately the Royal

Cambodian Government had to take responsibility for the handling of the hostage crisis.

A report of the Senate inquiry released this month said unanswered questions remained

in the case, including whether it was government troop shelling, a breakdown in ransom

talks or other factors which caused Khmer Rouge guerrillas to execute David Wilson

of Australia, Mark Slater of Britain and Jean-Michel Braquet of France.

The report said that despite some expectations that the inquiry by the foreign affairs,

defense and trade references committee could establish the truth, "it was clearly

beyond the powers of the committee to do so".

The Labor-led committee, which has been investigating the case since 1995, found

that as the three Western countries involved in the drama had a "no ransom policy"

they were in no position to push the ransom issue with the Cambodian Government when

its ransom negotiations appeared to break down.

"Ultimately, the Cambodian Government, representing a sovereign country, which

had responsibility for the handling of the crisis, has to take responsibility for

its actions," the report said.

Liberal committee member Senator Judith Troeth said after the report's release that

although both Labor and coalition senators endorsed the report, it raised serious

questions about of the former Labor Foreign Minister, Gareth Evans.

The report criticized the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade under Evans' leadership

for failing to give sufficient attention to the families of victims, including David

Wilson's relatives.

Senator Troeth said: "There are unanswered questions and the committee regrets

that very much".

The committee criticized the Department of Foreign Affairs for enforcing a strict

"no comment" policy to the media during the three-month drama, saying the

department should enter into more cooperative arrangements with the media in any

future hostage crisis or similar serious event involving Australians overseas.

The committee also urged the current Australian government to "take the strongest

possible actions at international level" if General Noun Paet, the KR commander

who allegedly ordered the executions of

David Wilson and his two European friends, was not put on trial for murder.

Thousands of KR guerrillas, some of them accused mass murderers, have been granted

amnesties in Cambodia as the uneasy coalition government in Phnom Penh pursues a

policy to end a more than a decade-long guerrilla insurgency.

The inquiry made 23 recommendations to the government to improve services to Australians

traveling overseas, including the provision of translator and interpreter services

to Australian victims of crime and those facing serious charges in overseas jurisdictions

and improvements to the list of lawyers provided to Australians overseas seeking

legal assistance.

The inquiry emphasized the importance of grief counseling for families as well as

officers of the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Committee Chairman Senator Michael Forshaw said that generally many Australians have

an unrealistic expectation of what the Australian government can do in another country's

legal and political systems.

Senator Forshaw said the committee agreed that diplomats had acted with great commitment

and integrity in assisting Australians in trouble overseas.

The family of David Wilson attacked the inquiry, saying senators failed to fully

investigate negotiation breakdowns that led to the execution of the Melbourne backpacker.

Peter Wilson, David's father, told the inquiry he was disappointed that senators

did not "follow up with probing questions" about the removal of the Cambodian

government's chief hostage negotiator, General Chea Dara, and the breakdown of negotiations

at a crucial time of the drama.

In a letter to the Senate's Committee, Peter Wilson said that appropriate questioning

of Australia's Ambassador in Phnom Penh, Tony Kevin, may have been able to illuminate

the real purpose of the arrival of Cambodian Government troops in the area where

the three were held captive before their executions.

Peter Wilson and David's brother Tim said they believed it was no accident of timing

that the Cambodian troops attacked the guerrillas just before the expected release

of the hostages.

The Wilsons said they regarded submissions and evidence put before the inquiry by

the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade as "poor attempts to recollect the

facts and poor logic when trying to explain and excuse the aggressive behavior"

of Cambodian troops.

They said the department adopted a biased hardline approach against the KR at the

expense of the hostages' lives.

Peter Wilson said that he had lost confidence in the ability of the Department of

Foreign Affairs to come to logical conclusions with supporting documentation and

"feels that their evasive responses to the senators' questions" indicated

they were not concerned with "our genuine endeavor to find out the truth in

what really happened to David".

The Senate committee was tasked in 1995 to report on how Australian officials handled

the Wilson case and others where Australians had got into trouble overseas.

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