Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Wilson family slam Aust govt

Wilson family slam Aust govt

Wilson family slam Aust govt

M ELBOURNE - An Australian family negotiated with mercenaries for a "Rambo-style"

rescue of three Western hostages in Cambodia on the "dangerous" advice

of Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs, a Parliamentary inquiry in Melbourne

has been told.

Melbourne mercenary Peter Drummond assured the family of David Wilson that his plan

to take Cambodian soldiers to the mountain Khmer Rouge camp where the foreigners

were being held was the only chance the hostages had of surviving, the inquiry heard

last week.

Tim Wilson told the inquiry into the 1994 kidnapping and execution of his brother

that in desperation his family followed the advice of the department's senior consular

officer, Wayne Fulton, to seek outside contacts in paying a ransom and went to Drummond,

a former Australian Vietnam veteran, who worked for Melbourne company Assett International.

Drummond presented himself as a trainer of Cambodian soldiers and the elite Australian

SAS commandos who would conduct the mission without the knowledge of the Australian

Government.

In a scathing attack on the department's handling of the crisis that led to execution

of the three hostages, Mr Wilson told the inquiry: "Imagine if we had gone ahead

with one of the mercenaries we met? Not only could we have been easy taking for a

quarter of a million dollars which we were in the process of collecting, but we could

have put David's life and other hostages' lives at enormous risk if the Rambo-style

rescue was really intended."

Wilson said the Department of Foreign Affairs later "blatantly lied to us"

about giving the advice to seek outside contacts, which was "much to our distress."

However, the department admitted to the inquiry that a separate Canberra-organised

commando-style raid to rescue the hostages was considered by representatives of the

Australian Defence Force, Foreign Affairs and Prime Minister and Cabinet on the request

of the then Foreign Affairs department head, Michael Costello.

But the idea was rejected, in part because its secrecy could not be assured, the

exact location of the hostages was not known and of other uncertainties making it

probable that the hostages and others would die, the department's submission said.

The inquiry by a committee of the Australian Senate was established last year to

investigate and report to Parliament's upper house on the murders of David Wilson,

29, Mark Slater, 28 of Britain and Jean-Michel Braquet, 29, of France, who were executed

in September or October 1994 after a Cambodian Government attempt to pay a $150,000

ransom collapsed after government troops starting attacking rebels in the area.

Wilson said the department's suggestion to seek outside contact to pay a ransom was

"dangerous advice without any proper explanation in how to go about it."

"After seriously considering engaging such a mercenary we were then informed

by Foreign Affairs that we didn't need to raise the ransom money as it was no longer

the request of David's captors and any such possible deal would be carried out by

the Cambodian Government, which the Australian Government refused to support,"

Wilson said.

"Inaction on behalf of our government's leaders in such life-threatening situations

where an Australian citizen's cries for help are ignored should be recognised as

an act of negligence."

David Wilson's father, Peter, said that the priority of the former Labor Government

was to protect Australia's interests in Cambodia.

"I do believe that [former Foreign Minister] Gareth Evans knows more about the

Cambodian Government's involvment in the hostages crisis," Wilson said.

"He [Evans] refuses to accept the possibility of the Cambodian Government using

this crisis to further its international aid funding."

Australia annouced a military aid package for Cambodia within weeks of the fate of

the hostages becoming known.

In a letter to the inquiry, Evans, who is now deputy Opposition leader, said that

all his judgments on the case were made in good faith, on the best professional advise

with the overriding consideration always being the welfare of David and his fellow

hostages."

A spokeman for the Department of Foreign Affairs said the department would answer

the Wilson family criticisms at future inquiry hearings.

The spokesman also rejected criticisms of Australia's ambassador in Phnom Penh, Tony

Kevin, who last week released a "personal statement" saying he would welcome

a request to give evidence to the inquiry, which is expected to continue into the

new year.

One of David Wilson's closest friends, David Purcell, who visited Phnom Penh during

the crisis, said that Kevin was a "bumbling mess" and "an absolute

incompetent".

In a Oct 25 statement issued from Phnom Penh, Kevin said he deeply respected the

grief of the Wilson family and friends, but that the criticisms of the Australian

government and foreign affairs officials were "without foundation".

On his request to testify before the Melbourne inquiry, Kevin said that, as ambassador

in Phnom Penh at the time of the hostage crisis, "I believe that the [Wilson]

family has a right to hear my personal testimony".

The Departmment of Foreign Affairs spokesman pointed out that Kevin's comments did

not neccessarily represent the views of the department and that no decisions had

been made on who would represent it at future hearings.

• Meanwhile, former Australian ambassador to Phnom Penh John Holloway is scheduled

to appear in Canberra court on Nov 4 on charges laid under Australia's Child Sex

Tourism Act which relate to allegations involving two Cambodian boys. Holloway denies

the charges. A magistrate will hear preliminary evidence to decide whether to commit

Holloway to trial.

Holloway, one of Australia's highest ranking diplomats, has been on leave since the

charges were laid earlier this year. He is also a former Australian Government-paid

adviser to Cambodia.

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