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Inquiry findings

F rom the report summary, regarding the kidnapping and murder of David Wilson, 1994:

This was a case where it was clear from the outset that the Committee could not possibly

satisfy all the expectations of those members of the Wilson family who made submissions

and appeared before the inquiry. The Committee has addressed in the report the main

questions which they raised in their evidence. However, it was not possible for a

Senate Committee to take evidence from many people, especially senior Cambodian officials,

about their role in the David Wilson case. The Committee did try to meet General

Chea Dara, the main Cambodian negotiator, but a meeting could not be arranged.

Although it is indisputable that David Wilson and his two companions were murdered

by the Khmer Rouge, it is not known why they were murdered. Were they murdered because

the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces decided to shell Phnom Vour, where the Khmer Rouge

camp was situated? Was it because the ransom negotiations broke down? Were there

other factors or some combination of factors? It is not possible to conclude definitively

what factors contributed to the deaths of the three hostages.

There are also other unanswered questions about the role of the Cambodian Government

in resolving the hostage crisis. Despite some expectations that the Committee could

resolve these vexed issues, it was clearly beyond the powers of the Committee to

do so.

The Wilson family and the Australian journalists who gave evidence to the Committee

thought that the Australian Government should have taken a tougher stance with the

Cambodian Government against the shelling of Phnom Vour. There was agreement at the

start the crisis that this would not happen. To what extent the Australian Government

could have unilaterally done much more than it did is not clear. As the three Governments

were acting in unison, it would have been difficult for the Australian Government

to have adopted a different approach to the other two Governments. Similarly, as

the three Western Governments had a 'no ransom policy', they were in no position

to push the ransom issue with the Cambodian Government when it's ransom negotiations

appeared to break down. Ultimately, the Cambodian Government, representing a sovereign

country, which had responsibility for handling the crisis, has to take responsibility

for its actions.

The committee believes that the [Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's] total

media 'no comment' policy, either on or off the record, was a mistake, even though

it was agreed among the three Governments. If the Department is unhelpful to the

media, and unprepared to guide and work with the media...the Department is in no

position to criticize the media for what is broadcast or written. The Australian

journalists, at least, were prepared to be guided by the Embassy and DFAT, and sought

cooperation from the outset.

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