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Australia must be consulted on airport's war graves impact.

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Minister for Foreign Affairs Alexander Downer

Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Danna Vale

11 March 2002


The Australian Government would expect full consultation from France on plans for a new international airport in the Somme that might force the relocation of Australian war graves.

The French Government late last year announced plans to explore the development of a third international airport for Paris, at Chaulnes in the Somme. While initial proposals did not affect any cemeteries containing Australian war graves, authorities have now proposed nominating an enlarged zone to facilitate public consultation on the final choice of a site.

As many as eight Commonwealth cemeteries may be affected, three of which contain the remains of 61 of Australia’s war dead. These are the Fouquescourt British Cemetery, the Bouchoir New British Cemetery and the World War II Meharicourt Communal Cemetery.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission will hold a meeting on 13 March in London to discuss the latest proposals for the third Paris airport. At this meeting, our High Commissioner to Britain, Michael L’Estrange, who represents Australia on the Commission, will register the Australian people’s deep concern about any development that would impact upon the graves of Australia’s war dead.

Our Ambassador to France, William Fisher, will also register Australia’s concerns with French authorities in Paris, stressing our strong desire that the graves be left undisturbed and our expectation of full consultation.

We recognise that France must balance the preservation of her wartime heritage against the country’s infrastructure needs.

However, these graves are the resting places of men who died for freedom and are sacred. Among them are the comrades of surviving Australian diggers who 80 years later were decorated by France with the Legion of Honour for their service on the Western Front.

Any development on the battlefields of the Western Front raises the possibility that unmarked graves might also be uncovered.

This is not an unusual occurrence and procedures have been developed to identify fallen soldiers and move their remains to a war cemetery. We would wish France to ensure that the remains of any Australian found in an unmarked grave would be treated with all the respect and reverence due to one of our war dead.

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