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Thursday, 25 March 1999
Page: 4423

Mrs GALLUS —My question is addressed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Can the minister inform the House of the Australian government's response to the decision by NATO to launch air attacks on the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia?

Mr DOWNER (Foreign Affairs) —I thank the honourable member for Hindmarsh for her question, and recognise the interest she shows in these broader international issues. These attacks by NATO on Yugoslavia are, of course, deeply regrettable, but the Australian government supports the NATO air strikes against military targets in Yugoslavia. We do regret that this action has become necessary, but there is only one person who is responsible for what has happened—that is, President Milosevic, the President of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

The international community cannot simply stand by and watch as President Milosevic's forces continue to perpetrate the sort of human rights abuses that have recently been perpetrated in Kosovo. It is an unreasonable proposition to expect NATO leaders to sit on their hands in that situation and do nothing.

Let me make it clear that our argument here is an argument with President Milosevic, with his government and with the instrument of his government, his armed forces. It is not an argument with the Serbian people as a whole. The tragic situation rests squarely with President Milosevic himself.

I note that President Yeltsin and others in the Russian government have recently made remarks that Russia could take military measures if the conflict grows. From the Australian government's perspective, we think that Russia should play a constructive role. For Russia to play a constructive role, President Yeltsin and other members of the Russian government, including Prime Minister Primakov, should pressure Mr Milosevic to halt his aggression and terror in Kosovo and sign up to the accord which has been negotiated at Rambouillet in France.

Finally, let me say something about those Australian citizens, many of whom have dual nationality, who are in Yugoslavia. I understand from my department that at the moment the borders of Yugoslavia still remain open, so those Australians planning to depart and who are in a position to do so should leave by the safest means available to them. Australians choosing to remain are encouraged to take the maximum protection to ensure their safety and welfare and should avoid military installations at all costs because it is the military installations which are going to be the targets of the NATO attacks.

In terms of consular services for those who are remaining, the welfare and safety of our locally engaged staff in Belgrade are obviously paramount. We have authorised them temporarily to close the embassy at short notice, should the situation warrant it. They are very dedicated people. They are prepared to provide consular assistance to Australians, but we want them to put their own safety and welfare before their professional commitment.