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Thursday, 27 May 1999
Page: 5592

Senator HARRADINE —My question is to the Leader of the Government. Is the government aware of the growing concern amongst the Australian community about the conduct of the bombing raids by NATO in Yugoslavia and in Kosovo, particularly about the collateral damage that has been caused? In respect of that clinical term `collateral damage', is the minister aware that recent bombing collateral damages have included loss of life or limb of men, women and children—innocent victims—and also a group of people who were meeting in opposition to President Milosevic? What is the situation so far as Australia is concerned? Does it have any influence on the conduct of the war in Yugoslavia and Kosovo?

Senator HILL (Environment and Heritage) —We would understand the concerns of the Australian people about so-called collateral damage—a cold expression meaning the death of or harm to innocent civilians. Unfortunately, in all situations of war there is collateral damage. Whilst we obviously very much regret it, and hesitated in saying so, we accept what NATO has been saying, and that is it has been making every effort to avoid collateral damage or injury to innocent civilians.

The real issue is: how can the bombing be brought to an end and the people of Kosovo able to return to their homes? I think it is worth remembering whenever we address this issue that the bombing was instituted because of the appalling human rights abuses that were occurring in Kosovo. As I understand it, about a million people now have been displaced from their homes and most have been driven out of their country. The belief of NATO was that there was no other alternative to answer those abuses, that the attempts of negotiation and dialogue had failed.

The question now is: what is the way forward? There are those who are arguing for a pause in the bombing as a step towards a negotiated settlement. It is obviously the view of NATO, if one reads the latest statements coming out of NATO, that they believe that would simply be counterproductive, that it would be interpreted as weakness and it would not achieve the outcome that we are all seeking.

The conditions that NATO has set down—and I remind honourable senators—for a cease in bombing are: a verifiable stop to all military actions and the immediate ending to all violence and repression; withdrawal from Kosovo of the Yugoslav military, police and paramilitary forces; the stationing in Kosovo of an international military presence; the unconditional and safe return of all refugees and displaced persons; and a credible assurance of Milosevic's willingness to work on the basis of the Rambouillet accords towards a political solution for Kosovo in conformity with international law and the charter of the United Nations.

NATO has not varied from those five conditions. They are well known to President Milosevic. The solution continues to lie in his hands. As soon as there is an indication that he is genuinely prepared to meet those conditions, then NATO will respond positively. NATO obviously does not wish to continue this bombing any longer than is absolutely necessary and obviously does not want to cause collateral damage.

Unfortunately, the solution lies in the hands of the Yugoslav leadership. We would urge that they respond to the requests and demands of the civilised international community in order that the bombing might then cease, and those that they have driven from their homes might be able to return to their homes and return in a way which they can be assured that they can live in a peaceful and safe way.