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Foreign Minister discusses Georgia.
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Wednesday, 13 August 2008
Online Text: 1740408
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SMITH, Stephen, MP
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Foreign Minister discusses Georgia.
MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS HON STEPHEN MR SMITH, MP
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 13 August 2008
TITLE: ABC RADIO : THE WORLD TODAY
PRESENTER: Australia's Foreign Affairs Minister, Stephen Smith says the Federal Government is preparing to announce a package of humanitarian assistance for those who've been displaced by the fighting in South Ossetia in Georgia.
Mr Smith revealed that Georgia had asked Australia for military assistance during the fighting but that the Government refused that request.
Mr Smith is visiting Indonesia and spoke from there to reporter, Samantha Hawley.
STEPHEN SMITH: We welcome the fact that Russian President Medvedev has indicated that he is prepared to stop hostilities. That sets the scene for an effective ceasefire.
JOURNALIST: Well, there is just news to hand now that Georgia has agreed to the terms of the ceasefire. That has got to be a positive step.
STEPHEN SMITH: Absolutely, but in the end what we now need is to try and find a long-term solution to this. Yes, we have seen very regrettable violence and force of arms, use of the force of arms in the last few days but this problem has been going on for some time. We now do need to work through by dialogue, a solution to this problem.
JOURNALIST: I understand that Georgia had actually asked Australia for military assistance. Is that right?
STEPHEN SMITH: At officer level in New York through the UN, Georgia approached, at an officer level, a number of countries for military assistance. Our response was of course, the obvious which is - we are not interested in a military solution here, we're interested in ceasefire and a dialogue. So that was made very clear.
JOURNALIST: OK so absolutely no consideration by Australia to that request?
STEPHEN SMITH: Absolutely not. We are not interested in a military solution here. We are interested in a dialogue. I have made it clear and I again make it clear, Australia of course,
stands ready to contemplate humanitarian assistance. There have been a large number of civilians who have been killed or injured or displaced.
JOURNALIST: Do we know how many?
STEPHEN SMITH: I am not aware of the precise numbers, possibly 100,000 of displaced people in South Ossetia and Georgia.
JOURNALIST: Could we provide refuge for some of these people?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well I think it is too early to contemplate that. What we want in the first instance is a cessation of violence, restoration of peace and stability and then talks which we hope can bring about a long-term solution to this.
JOURNALIST: And you will be providing some form of humanitarian aid, money I expect, when will you make an announcement about that?
STEPHEN SMITH: I hope to be in a position to announce what we are doing in the first instance in the next 24 hours.
JOURNALIST: You mentioned the number of civilian casualties is very high. Should Russia or Georgia for that matter, face war crimes investigations?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well again, I think it is very early to contemplate things of that nature.
JOURNALIST: There are still reports of sporadic fighting. Should the Australians who remain in Georgia still proceed with plans to leave or given now that Georgia seems to have agreed to the ceasefire, can they safely remain in the country?
STEPHEN SMITH: We, yesterday, increased our travel advice to do not travel to Georgia. There are a small number of Australians who are in Georgia and our advice to them has been that if they are able to leave safely, they should leave and for a number of Australians, we have been able to facilitate their leaving Georgia.
For those who want to remain we have been indicating to them that they should effectively keep their heads down. They should stay indoors and keep their heads down.
ELEANOR HALL: The Foreign Affairs Minister, Stephen Smith speaking to Samantha Hawley.