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Thursday, 17 October 1985
Page: 1401

Senator COONEY —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs. It arises out of an article in today's Melbourne Age headed `Afghans may have Williamsons'. It refers to Dr Robert Williamson and his wife, Jenny, who were captured by the Sasooli tribe in Pakistan. In part the article reads:

They are believed to have been handed on through a series of groups in the region and to have been taken into Afghanistan.

I ask the Minister: Is the Government amongst those groups which believe that the Williamsons have been passed on through a series of groups and are in Afghanistan? If it does believe that, what belief does it have as to their present whereabouts and circumstances? If it does not believe that, what does it believe?

Senator GARETH EVANS —The only information that I have is as follows, and it adds to the information that I was able to provide to the Senate in answer to Senator Cooney, on 10 September: Developments in recent weeks have included the receipt in early September of two brief letters dated 21 August signed by the Williamsons by their families which they have accepted as authentic and, secondly, the release from prison of Alla Ghul, whose sons had demanded his release in return for the Williamsons.

The Government's position is that it would be premature and unhelpful to speculate at a time of some sensitivity in the process of seeking to free the couple. We do not know precisely where or by whom the Williamsons are being held. Latest seemingly reliable reports indicate that the couple is being held by a tribal group in the Kandahar region of Afghanistan.

The Government has made a number of approaches to the Afghan authorities and has also asked other countries, as well as the United Nations Secretary-General, to approach the Afghans on our behalf. These approaches have so far produced no useful information. There have been a number of reports of possible Afghan involvement in the continued holding of the Williamsons. The Government does not have any confirmation of such involvement.

We remain grateful for Pakistan's unrelenting efforts to free the couple. Finally, the Department of Foreign Affairs is in daily contact with the Williamsons' families.