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Meeting on humanitarian assistance and relief to the Kampuchean people : statement by the Minister for Foreign Affairs

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26 May 1980 ' ; ""....


Thfe 'fol'lowing’ is. the text of a .statement delivered in Geneva on 26 May by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Andrew Peacock, after his election as President of the Meeting onHumanitarian Assistance and Relief to the Kampuchean People:

It is an honour for the Government and people of Australia that I have been elected today to the Presidency of this important and timely Meeting on Humanitarian assistance and relief to the Kampuchean people. I thank all delegations for

their support. In assuming my responsibilities as President, I shall do my best to justify the confidence you have shown in my government and me.

The task before us is clear. We meet today in fulfilment of resolution 1980/23 adopted by the Economic and Social Council on 1 May 1980. As the Secretary-General has noted, the international community has been engaged since

July 1979 in a program of humanitarian assistance and relief to the people of Kampuchea. Despite the efforts which have been made and the progress achieved in the past ten months the Economic and Social Council recognised that there is a

grave and urgent need to increase that assistance and to improve the practical measures to ensure that food and medical supplies reach those in need. The Council also noted that the financial target for the period extending from April to December 1980 has not yet been attained and that serious practical problems concerning the distribution of aid remain unresolved. The Council likewise noted with grave concern the large number of

refugees in the region and their urgent need for further progress and effective international assistance.

In approaching our task, I would urge upon distinguished delegates the importance of concentrating our deliberations upon the humanitarian objectives and the practical tasks which the Economic and Social Council has indicated and defined. This meeting will not be concerned with political controversy or polemics. Our single and sole objective is to alleviate the plight of the millions of men, women and ^children, within Kampuchea and across its common border with Thailand, who stand

in urgent need of food, shelter or medical care.

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• It was therefore with regret that I learned that the

Socialist Republic of Vietnam and the Governments of Eastern Europe, which have rendered bilateral assistance to the Kampuchean people, have declined the Secretary-General1s invitation to attend this meeting. The multilateral operations with which we are concerned here and the relief'activities which those governments have been conducting in Kampuchea are, I believe, compelementary

in character and directed to the same humanitarian end. The results of our deliberations will, however, be made fully available to the governments concerned and will, I trust, open the way to closer and more effective co-operation in the future, _ At a time when there are many and deep disagreements which divide ..

the nations of the world, the plight of Kampuchea is one issue which should transcend ideological, political and social differences and unite us in a collective international effort to alleviate and eventually solve it.

At this juncture, I should like to pay tribute to the United Nations agencies - UNICEF, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, FAO and the World Food Program - and to the International Committee of the Red Cross for

all that they have achieved so far. Although the present situation is one of deep and pressing concern to us all, the immediate prospect of a massive human tragedy which then confronted us last July has receded, and this is in large measure due to the dedicated efforts of the agencies, and especially those of their

staff working in the field in difficult and sometimes frustrating conditions. As a n _Australian, it is a matter of particular plea­ sure and pride that the co-ordination of this great international program has been entrusted to my distinguished compatriot,

Sir Robert Jackson, His report is an excellent basis for our deliberations, I should like also to express my warm appreciation to all those non-governmental organisations whose efforts have supplemented those of the international agencies.

This meeting is in part a pledging conference, and the final item on our agenda is that of contributions. At this point, however, I should like to express my appreciation to all those governments which have already provided valuable assistance to

the Kampuchean people, both multilaterally through contributions to the programs of the international agencies, and bilaterally in the form of direct assistance to the authorities in Phnom Penh. The generosity of private organisations and private citizens in so many of our countries should also be recognised.

Special mention must be made of the contribution of the Government and people of Thailand, who have had to cope with a massive influx of people seeking food and shelter at the border, or admission into Thailand itself as refugees. The humane and

generous response made by the Thai Government in a particularly difficult situation deserves our warmest commendation. We must recognise too, that many thousands of Thai people have been displaced or affected in other ways by the influx, and that the alleviation of their situation must also be a responsibility for the international community.

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What are the immediate tasks of the international agencies, for which our support is needed,, The first and most important, of course, is to prevent starvation or hunger in Kampuchea and in the border regions» Success in this task will mean success also in what we all regard as a second task,

namely to end the conditions in which people leave their homes in search of the means of survival» Thirdly, preparations should be made to ensure an adequate wet season rice harvest, with supporting efforts in the production of fish, vegetables and

legumes. The fourth main task must be to provide increased and improved medical facilities and to introduce a degree of more general health protection»

Kampuchea is a shattered country. Its infrastructure has been devasted, its population traumatised and its suffering is far from finished» Indeed, even when the massive food and health problems are eventually overcome, there will still be

the long, slow haul to reconstruct the country so that its people will be able to resume normal lives in conditions of < peace and security» We cannot underestimate the great obstacles faced by all concerned in conducting a large-scale relief operation

and in bringing food and medicine to all those in need» There are many! pressing practical problems - problems of personnel, access and movement, shortages of equipment and facilities of all kinds, lack of funds - and there will be others of a longe·- term and even more demanding kind» I shall not elaborate on these problems now except to observe that they require the closest and most careful consideration if we are to make accurate assessments of the efficacy of the relief operation as it has developed so far, and to identify what needs to be done in the months ahead»

It is to this meeting in Geneva that the international agencies are looking for help in resolving the problems and overcoming the obstacles in their path - and our presence provides them with the opportunity to make their requests fully and clearly known» But above all, it is to this meeting in Geneva that millions of needy and suffering people are looking - first for survival, and then for some chance of subsistence in conditions of self-dependence 'and human dignity»