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Tuesday, 9 December 1986
Page: 3589


Senator GARETH EVANS —Earlier in Question Time I was asked by Senator Coleman to respond to the reports of recent events on the Nicaraguan-Honduran border. I indicated I would be in a position to do so at the end of Question Time, which I now am. There have been Press reports today of military incidents on Sunday on either side of the border between Nicaragua and Honduras. The major incident reported was on the Honduran side where Nicaraguan troops had entered an area near positions occupied by Contras and come up against Honduran troops ferried to within 40 kilometres of the border by United States helicopters. The other incident reported was an air attack from Honduras on three Nicaraguan towns close to the border. The United States has reportedly admitted that its helicopters were used to ferry troops to within 40 kilometres of the border on the Honduran side but has denied that its forces were actively engaged in fighting. Nicaragua has charged that United States aircraft were used in the attacks on Nicaraguan towns. At this stage we have no independent reports on these incidents.

The Australian Government would greatly regret such incidents and would be concerned if these led to escalation of tensions in Central America. It adheres to the view that the best hope for peace in the region lies in diplomatic negotiations rather than in military action. The Government is, of course, aware of recent reports about the illicit channelling of money to the Contras. Our views on the Contras are well known-we obviously would wish to give them no comfort or encouragement. Our opposition to any funding or support of the Contras has been stated publicly and to the United States Government. Some of the leading Contras are former members of Somoza's National Guard, a force which perpetrated atrocities against the Nicaraguan people for several years under the Somoza dictatorship. Similar abuses have continued with attacks by the Contras on civilian targets in Nicaragua. Australia has condemned the Contras' human rights record as well as expressing its concern over the increasing repression by the Nicaraguan Government. It is our view that support for the Contras, whether legal or illegal, will only exacerbate these problems and lead to an escalation of tensions in Central America which will further impede possibilities of a peaceful negotiation of the conflict there.