Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Prime Minister and Foreign Minister criticise aid worker in Iraq for being reckless; Italy will not be blackmailed by taped message, allegedly from Osama bin Laden, offering a truce to countries which withdraw from hostilities against Muslims.



Download WordDownload Word

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

This transcript has been prepared by a source external to the Department of the Parliamentary Library.

 

It may not have been checked against the broadcast or in any other way. Freedom from error, omissions or misunderstandings cannot be guaranteed.

 

For the purposes of quoting verbatim from a transcript, it is advisable to verify the transcript against the broadcast.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

PM

 

Friday 16 April 2004

Prime Minister and Foreign Minister criticise aid worker in Iraq for being reckless; Italy will not be blackmailed by taped message, allegedly from Osa ma bin Laden, offering a truce to countries which withdraw from hostilities against Muslims

 

MARK COLVIN: European governments have treated with contempt an ultimatum from Osama bin Laden offering a truce to European countries if they pull their troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan within three months. 

 

But the tape offers a new perspective on bin Laden's propaganda machine. For the first time, there was no reference to the Koran, instead the seven-and-a-half minute tape plays on European political notions of money and class. 

 

At the same time, here in Australia, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister have gone out of their way to condemn the actions of an Australian activist who says she was held for a short time in Iraq as a hostage. 

 

The Government says Donna Mulhearn's aid trip to the town of Fallujah was reckless and could have endangered other Australians in Iraq. 

 

Rafael Epstein reports. 

 

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: American intelligence agencies say the tape is most likely the voice of Osama bin Laden. 

 

Played on the Al Arabiya TV network, the al-Qaeda chief offers a vague truce to European countries. 

 

OSAMA BIN LADEN (translated): I offer a truce to them, with a commitment to stop operations against any state which vows to stop attacking Muslims or interfering in their affairs, including participating in the American conspiracy against the wider Muslim world. 

 

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: With US soldiers and installations installed all over the world, it's an almost impossible offer to meet. It doesn't specify which American alliances it targets, and it doesn't say from which countries soldiers should withdraw. 

 

However, Italy is the most recent country to face that choice. With the murder of an Italian hostage overnight, the Italian Minister for Europe, Rocco Bottiglione, was exasperated with a BBC interviewer, who asked if his Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi could have said anything to avoid that death. 

 

ROCCO BOTTIGLIONE: What should he have said? That we were ready to withdraw from Iraq? If you accept once to be blackmailed, that will make it twice and more and instead of having four hostages, we might have forty. And instead of having one casualty, we might have ten. I cannot imagine Italy withdrawing troops under a blackmail. 

 

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Bin Laden's offer shows he has a flexible propaganda message that is looking to exploit western political debate. 

 

The ALP in Australia, and left wing parties around the world have been targeted by their opponents for suggesting troops should be pulled out of Iraq. 

 

Left of centre parties say such attacks try to paint the political landscape in simplistic terms, with parties of the right on one side and all the rest lumped in with al-Qaeda.  

 

But Australia's Foreign Minister Alexander Downer says there is only one response to bin Laden's offer. 

 

ALEXANDER DOWNER: This is a propaganda manoeuvre and this is a proposition that should be roundly rejected by the international community. Terrorism can't be defeated if the international community is divided in the war against terrorism, if some countries decide they are going to duck out of it, and they are going to cave into demands and threats made by the likes of Osama bin Laden. 

 

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: The Foreign Minister was also concerned about Donna Mulhearn from Maitland in New South Wales. She says she was terrified when she was held for nearly a day by Iraqi insurgents as she and three others tried to leave the town of Fallujah, after delivering aid supplies. 

 

DONNA MULHEARN: They were suspicious that we could have been spies. So I think under other circumstances they may have taken the opportunity to use us as hostages to place pressure on the Australian Government. 

 

My interrogators said to me, asked me questions like, why does your Prime Minister want to keep… to send soldiers to Iraq from Australia? Why are Australians involved in the war in Iraq? 

 

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Donna Mulhearn has been in Iraq for five months and she travelled to Iraq last year as a human shield. She says the Government had placed her in danger by making inflammatory statements about Iraq that were replayed on Arabic TV. 

 

The Government made much of her reported connection to the Labor Party, and the Prime Minister John Howard condemned her aid mission to Fallujah. 

 

JOHN HOWARD: It is not fair on others to behave in a careless, foolhardy fashion. No matter what your views may be, there are others to be considered. There is your family to be considered, there is the Australian community in Iraq to be considered, but thank God she's safe. 

 

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: The Foreign Minister says she has every right to protest her views, but he said it was doubtful in the extreme that Donna Mulhearn had come under fire on three separate occasions from US marines as the aid workers delivered supplies. And he cast doubt on her claim to have been held hostage.  

 

ALEXANDER DOWNER: That's what she says. But she hasn't to the best of my knowledge contacted our embassy in Baghdad and she's gone straight out and contacted the media, not contacted the embassy, which is uncharacteristic of people's behaviour in these circumstances. 

 

But I have nothing more to go on than her word and I can't repudiate what she said. What she said I assume to be true, unless proven otherwise. 

 

MARK COLVIN: The Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, ending Rafael Epstein's report.