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Thursday, 1 June 1989
Page: 3221

Senator McMULLAN —My question is directed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. Has the Minister seen press reports concerning the intention of the United States Administration to supply arms to the non-communist resistance in Cambodia? Does the Government believe that this will help to bring about an early and lasting settlement in Cambodia?

Senator GARETH EVANS —Yes, I have seen reports in this morning's press-supplemented by material from our mission in Washington-that the United States Administration has indicated that it will seek the approval of Congress for a program to supply rifles and other lethal weapons to the non-communist resistance headed by Prince Sihanouk. This is a topic that I have discussed with Secretary of State Baker. Both I and the Prime Minister discussed it with Vice-President Quayle when he was here in Australia. In those discussions with the United States, both the Prime Minister and I counselled real caution about providing lethal aid to Prince Sihanouk and those forces working with him at a time when diplomatic efforts were in train and making obvious progress toward a Cambodian settlement.

While the Australian Government continues to regard Prince Sihanouk's role as absolutely crucial to any lasting settlement in Cambodia, the Government is concerned that the supply of arms to the non-communist resistance, rather than assisting the diplomatic process, which is the stated United States rationale, will work against the process of achieving agreement among the factions on an internal settlement. Accommodation among the factions is the major stumbling block at present in the way of an overall statement.

It can also be said that there is a real risk that some of the arms supplied to the non-communist resistance could find their way into the hands of the Khmer Rouge, the third partner in the forces of the CGDK-the Coalition Government of Democratic Cambodia-which is obviously something that we would deplore. In that context I should say that I do not want anything that I have said this afternoon to be taken as in any way critical of the United States position on the Khmer Rouge. Vice-President Quayle made very clear that the United States, like Australia, wants absolutely no return to the brutality of the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia. We are all determined that such a tragedy must not again befall the people of that country. As a result we are very concerned to ensure that negotiations for a resolution of the Cambodian issue will succeed.