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Downer tours Thailand's disaster areas -

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Downer tours Thailand's disaster areas

AM - Tuesday, 4 January , 2005 08:09:23

Reporter: Peter Lloyd

ELEANOR HALL: Australia's Foreign Minster, Alexander Downer, has now arrived in Thailand where
he'll tour the disaster areas before heading to Indonesia later this week for the tsunami emergency
summit.

Mr Downer is hinting that the Australian Government is preparing to announce a much larger aid
package at the summit, but he's giving away few details.

At the same time the United States Government is stressing that aid for disaster relief in the
region is essential to deter terrorism.

Our correspondent Peter Lloyd is in Phuket.

PETER LLOYD: Well the United States has earmarked several hundred million dollars to the area, and
much of it will go to the worst affected areas of Indonesia around Aceh, which in the past have
been nests of terror strongholds.

There's firstly the GAM, the Aceh separatist movement. There is also linkages between that part of
Indonesia and terrorism activities in southern Thailand where there is a restive Muslim population,
there is an insurgency underway there, and an arc which reaches right around through Burma into
Bangladesh of terror movement.

So at a time of crisis like this it would make perfect sense for the Americans, backed by
Australia, to be looking at funding reconstruction with an aim to creating stability so that there
isn't an opportunity, if you like, for any extremist groups to take advantage of this crisis in
Asia to ferment more trouble.

ELEANOR HALL: When he arrived in Thailand, did Mr Downer give any details on this proposed larger
aid package that Australia is set to announce at the summit on Thursday?

PETER LLOYD: Well the Australians so far are talking about $60 million and Mr Downer said on
arrival that Prime Minister Howard when he goes to Jakarta will have more to say. He says that as
far as Thailand is concerned they're not looking for cash; they're looking for technical
assistance. But it will be more focused on what the Indonesians need and that will lead,
speculation says... that will lead to more millions of dollars being announced by the Prime Minister
when he reaches Jakarta.

ELEANOR HALL: Now Peter, the number of Australians missing has been revised down. What's the latest
there on Australian casualties?

PETER LLOYD: In Thailand, the figure is extremely unclear. The Government and the officials from
Foreign Affairs here are speaking in terms of scores. Certainly lower than a hundred at this point.
Nine people have been confirmed dead and the Government is still going around the mortuaries and of
course there's an involvement by the Federal Police forensics team in identifying bodies, but
that's not just Australians, that's everyone here. And as time goes by, they're hoping that with
reconciliations with Immigration Department figures of people returning Australia, and also people
phoning in after they've realized that there's a serious problem here, some travellers, perhaps
they speculate, don't even realise what's gone on because they've gone on to other destinations.

Once those things start to accumulate in Canberra they hope to whittle down the list and they're
confident that it will be perhaps lower. But at the same time the Government is warning that many
people will be dead when this is over and Mr Downer when he arrived here did say it could be more
than died in Bali, which is more than 88 people.

ELEANOR HALL: The ABC's South East Asia Correspondent Peter Lloyd in Phuket in Thailand.