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Transcript of press conference of Minister for Foreign Affairs: Melbourne: July 27 2004.

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DATE: July 27 2004

TITLE: Press Conference, Melbourne

FOREIGN MINISTER, ALEXANDER DOWNER: I want to spend a bit of time this morning talking about Sudan. The Australian Government has, for quite some time, been very concerned about the situation in Sudan; the fighting that's taken place over many years in the southern part of Sudan between the Sudanese Liberation Front and the Sudanese Government, and, but also more recently the activities of the militias in the western part of Sudan, who are driving people out of the Darfur region. Now there are believed to be somewhere in the vicinity of 1.1 or 1.2 million refugees driven out of western Sudan. There are estimates of a number of people who have been killed in the last 15 months, ranging from 30,000 - which is a figure I've tended to use - but the United Nations estimates the figure could be higher than that somewhere in the vicinity of 50,000 people having been killed in the last 15 months. This is an enormous humanitarian crisis, and it's incumbent on the international community to address it and address it effectively. And I think all of us would have to say that we haven't done nearly enough up until now.

And as a result, today I'm taking the opportunity of announcing a decision that we made as a government over the weekend, to provide substantial additional aid to the refugees in the Darfur region of Sudan. We'll be providing now $20 million to support these people. This money will go significantly to the World Food Program and to the United Nations in the form of UNICEF - the United Nations Children Funds - but also some money we'll keep in reserve to give to other UN agencies and non-government organisations operating in that region. We've already provided $8 million, so this is another $12 million on top of that $8 million, bringing our total now to $20 million. And, to be frank, we need to keep our options open to provide more assistance when we believe that we can do more, because this is a truly enormous humanitarian disaster.

The United Nations Security Council has been meeting, I understand overnight, and is still working on trying to put together resolutions to deal with this problem. I think it's a sad thing that it's taken the United Nations so long, and they still can't reach agreement in the Security Council. But we would hope that the United Nations would be able to conclude a Security Council resolution to provide for the peacekeepers - in particular the African Union peacekeepers - but also to say to the Sudanese Government that it should, as it said it will, cease to provide assistance to the militias in the west of Sudan. There are clearly links between the Sudanese Government and the militias, and those links must come to an end. The Sudanese Government has told the Secretary General of the United Nations and the

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Secretary of State of the United States in their recent visits to Sudan, that this practice would cease. But we still await the evidence, and we still await the Sudanese Government's direct action to stop these militias operating in the western part of Sudan. And, I think it's fair to say that, whilst we're not a member of the Security Council, we would diplomatically support sanctions against Sudan if the Sudanese Government didn't live up to its commitments - that is to stop any support for the militias and to bring to an end militia activity against the people of western Sudan. So, as I say, it's a very big issue. I think Australia has to be generous and has to be pro-active in providing support. We've said that, in the case of Sudan, we would consider providing a very small number of peacekeepers if a peacekeeping force comes about. And we'll have to wait and see. But, overall, I think we need to be supportive. Sudan may be a little way away from Australia, but this is an issue that all of humanity have to address, given the sheer dimensions of the problem. Happy to answer your questions, if you have any.

QUESTION: Is there any suggestion of Australia sending any troops at all to help out the UN peacekeeping [indistinct]?

MINISTER DOWNER: Well look, there are two proposals here which I think have become a bit meshed together. We need to de-link them. There is a process of negotiation, we hope about to conclude in the southern part of Sudan, between the government and an organisation called the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement, who have been fighting a civil war for quite some time - enormous numbers of casualties, enormous human suffering.

There is a proposal by the United Nations to send peacekeepers there, once the peace agreement is signed by the Government of Sudan and the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement. And we've said that we would consider providing some support. But, you're talking about a small number of Australians, and in specialist areas - we're not looking at sending infantry, but looking at sending small but specialist capacities, which is of course one of our strengths. Our defence force isn't enormous, but it is very sophisticated, and we can provide specialist capabilities.

QUESTION: Mr Downer, are you concerned at all that Australia's relationship will be strained [indistinct]?

MINISTER DOWNER: No I'm not. I tell you what I'm above all concerned about. I'm concerned about the security of our people in Iraq. And I have to do everything I can to try to shore up the security of Australians, be they military personnel, be they aid workers, be they contractors, be they diplomats. And when I read at the weekend the threats made by this alleged terrorist organisation against Australia and Australians; these blood curdling threats, I was very much struck how one of their demands was that we should implement the same policies as Spain and the Philippines. And look, the fact is that as our Ambassador in Madrid has explained to the Spanish Government, whatever the circumstances surrounding Spain's withdrawal of its troops from Iraq - and I think we all know what the circumstances were - whatever those circumstances, Islamic extremists, terrorists are using those circumstances in order to apply greater pressure on other countries. And, if we were all just to up and leave Iraq, in the teeth of threats by terrorists, we would leave Iraq as a haven for terrorists. So I know it's a tough message, and we don't want to get into unnecessary arguments with other countries, but we do have to stand up for what we believe in, and we do have to stand up for what we believe is right. We said at the time, when the Spanish election occurred, first of all

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that we would hope that the Socialist Party having won the election - that's not a matter for us who wins Spanish elections - but the Socialist Party having won the election, would consider reversing its decision, particularly in the wake of the Madrid bombing. They chose not to do so. We did make it clear to the Philippines Government that we hoped they'd take the same position South Korea and Bulgaria took recently, and that is to stare down the terrorists, not to yield to the terrorists.

But the Philippines Government has its own, you know, issues that it has to consider, I suppose. And it's a tough position for any government to be in, as it was, for President Roh of South Korea, as it was for the President of Bulgaria, the Prime Minister of Japan; no doubt the President of Egypt now. Now they've all found themselves in a tough position. But tough as that position is, if you give ground to terrorists, what you do is empower them. And if you empower them, then you buy yourself more problems further down the track. So we just have to reflect on what is the right thing to do in dealing with terrorism and, well you know, if that leads to the odd diplomatic exchange, so be it.

QUESTION: Is it undiplomatic though to suggest a direct link between what those countries have done [indistinct]?

MINISTER DOWNER: I'm referring here, and I think it's important you understand this, I didn't raise those countries out of context. I raised those countries very much in context. The fact is that the website specifically refers to the actions of Spain and the Philippines and urges Australia, if it wants to, spare itself from attacks by Islamic extremists and terrorists to follow the lead of Spain and the Philippines and that's the point of course of context.

QUESTION: [Indistinct] window?

MINISTER DOWNER: Well you know, that's a silly comment.

QUESTION: But when you consider the delicate nature of relationship Australia has with the Philippines maintaining our security, do you think with hindsight your statements were a bit too strong.

MINISTER DOWNER: No I do not, I do not. I think that we have been enormously supportive of the Philippines in the war against terrorism. We have provided financial support. We have provided technical support for the Philippines to help them confront the problem of terrorism. I was very struck, since you're asking me about it, you know government isn't about always easy decisions or being a marshmallow. And I don't think that has ever been either our Government's approach or my approach. I was very struck, you know, when President Arroyo made the announcement that they were going to accede to the demands of the terrorists and true, she saved a Filipino life in doing that. But I noticed the leader of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, one of the terrorist organisations in the southern Philippines, celebrating saying, no not celebrating the release of Mr de Cruz but he was celebrating - it's an important point this - he was celebrating the fact that this was a victory for the jihadists. And this is a problem. I'm sorry, it is a problem. And we all have to live with the consequences of our decisions and we made our position - I haven't just recently come to this conclusion or come to this conclusion this weekend. Both the Prime Minister and I have made these points over the last few weeks.

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QUESTION: So in that context, how seriously do you take the claims that [indistinct] Islamist groups [indistinct]…

MINISTER DOWNER: Well, I don't know that it's the same organisation, frankly. This is something that's being investigated, but I don't think it's the same organisation with direct links into Europe, which is the organisation that professes to be an Islamic terrorist organisation with a website threatening Australia. I've been advised that this group in Melbourne may have some links to Lebanon* but not to Europe. But, it's being examined, and the Attorney-General and the Federal Police will be able to throw more light on that for you later.

QUESTION: Are they violent links, or are they just …

MINISTER DOWNER: I understand on the thin information that's been provided to me so far - and you really will have to go to the Federal Police and the Attorney-General for a more detailed briefing about this - but I understand that they are institutional links, with a similar organisation in Lebanon*, not with the Government, with a similar organisation in Lebanon*. But, look, this is all a work-in-progress. It's still being investigated, and it's a matter really for the Attorney-General. Anything else today?

QUESTION: What's your reaction to being [indistinct] National Security Adviser [indistinct]?

MINISTER DOWNER: Well, I noticed the political left in Australia exploded into fury, anger and outrage when Mr Latham was criticised by the United States Administration. So I just make the point to you that I made at that time. Look, inevitably there is, from time to time, debate in international affairs. You can't expect the 200 countries of the world all to agree with each other on everything. And I accept that. There is times when I don't agree with the Philippines or Indonesia or Malaysia or you know, Burkino Faso. I don't agree with the Sudanese Government, and I've been saying some tough things about them today. This happens. We don't live in a world where, you know, you can't speak out and stand up for what you believe in. And these are important issues for us. I have to act in a way that I think - I can never guarantee the security of Australians - but I have to act in a way that provides the best chance of them having security. And, so inevitably, where countries take different positions from us, they'll express those views and we'll express our views. You know Australia's a very strong and a robust and serious country, and we know that we get criticised. We get criticised incessantly, but we stand up for what we believe in.

QUESTION: One more - are you concerned that the Opposition may spill the [indistinct] on non-acceptance of the trade agreement?

MINISTER DOWNER: I used to think that the Labor Party was going, in the end, to do a back-flip and support the Free Trade Agreement, and now I'm not so sure. I notice that today Senator Lundy has come out and made quite inaccurate remarks about the local content provisions of the Free Trade Agreement. She's wrong about that. But, in a sense, more significantly, she demonstrates that the Labor Party is bitterly divided over the issue of the Free Trade Agreement. And the fact that people in the Labor Party are now spraying in all

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directions in their commentary on this issue, is the responsibility of Mr Latham. Mr Latham could have made a decision months ago. This idea that a Senate Committee, which is of course dominated by the Labor Party, is going to be the crucial decider in whether Labor supports this agreement or not - it is of course a complete fiasco. That isn't true at all. The three Labor - I think there are three Labor Senators on the Committee - will be told by the Labor leadership what conclusions to come to. And since they dominate the committee, that will be what the report of the committee says. No, Mr Latham, by dithering on this issue for months, has left himself very vulnerable to internal divisions within the Labor Party. And I have no idea how the Labor Party will resolve these issues. But, if the Labor Party votes against the Free Trade Agreement, that will be a black day for our national interest.

* Minister inadvertently said Libya - reference should be to Lebanon

ENDS………………………………………………………………………July 27 2004