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Tuesday, 10 September 1985
Page: 330


Senator GARETH EVANS —Earlier in Question Time today Senator Cooney asked me a question about Dr and Mrs Williamson. I am now able to supply the following information, which has been provided to me by the Department of Foreign Affairs:

Dr and Mrs Williamson were kidnapped near Quetta in Baluchistan, Pakistan, on 18 May. Dr Williamson, who is a hydrologist, is employed by an Australian company on contract to the World Bank. He was working in Baluchistan and living in Quetta when the couple were abducted. The Williamsons were originally abducted by members of the Sasooli tribe living in an area straddling the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. In exchange for the couple's freedom, the release from prison of a Sasooli tribal leader was initially demanded. Since then the situation surrounding the kidnapping has become confused and it now seems possible that the Williamsons are no longer being held by the Sasoolis. Information of relevance is hard to acquire and almost impossible to check. It does appear, however, that the Williamsons are being held inside Afghanistan.

Primary carriage of efforts to locate the Williamsons and secure their release, unharmed, has of course been with the Government of Pakistan, which has pursued its responsibilities with diligence. Australian officials have kept closely in touch with the Pakistanis, and to that end, an officer of the Embassy in Islamabad has visited Quetta on a regular basis since the kidnapping. Information has also been sought from a number of other sources. Additionally, the Government has officially sought the consular assistance of the governments of the Soviet Union and Afghanistan, as well as the assistance of the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the President of the World Bank. Friendly governments with representatives in Afghanistan have been asked for their help but no hard information has yet resulted from these approaches. Officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs have kept in daily contact with Dr and Mrs Williamson's families in Victoria.

I am extremely concerned, as is the Foreign Minister, that, after almost four months, we appear to be no closer to a resolution of this matter than we were before. Mr Hayden has again written to the Pakistan Foreign Minister, Yaqub Khan, asking that the Pakistan Government's best endeavours be continued to secure the early release, unharmed, of the couple. Honourable senators can be assured that this Government will continue to do all that it can to secure the early release of Dr and Mrs Williamson.