File Shows Australian Missteps in ’94, Ex-Diplomat Says

A former Australian Embassy official responsible for collecting documentation on a hostage killed by the Khmer Rouge in the summer of 1994 said yesterday that an inquest expected to resume soon will reveal negligence on the part of the Australian government.

In an essay published yesterday in the Melbourne newspaper The Age, Alastair Gaisford said records created by embassy officials at the time–believed to have been handed over to the State Coroners Court recently after a more than a decade–will show the Australian government knew of an impending Cambodian assault on the Khmer Rouge stronghold of Phnom Voar, where the hostages were being held.

“The Australian government already knew and approved of a Cambodian government plan for full-scale attack on the hostage mountain, which would place their lives in danger,” wrote Mr Gaisford. “[T]he Australian government did nothing to enforce the diplomatic agreement or try and stop the military attack.”

Just two months prior to the Khmer Rogue ambush on the Preah Sihanouk-bound train, which resulted in the death of 13 Cambodians and the kidnapping of Australian David Wilson, Frenchman Jean-Michel Braquet and Briton Mark Slater, the US, Australia and Asean nations met to discuss and approve financial and military support for a forthcoming offensive against the Khmer Rogue.

The meeting followed a similar discussion between then-King Norodom Sihanouk and Australian envoy Michael Costello concerning military aid.

“Certainly that apparently confirms the government knew of a planned attack,” Mr Gaisford said by phone yesterday.

Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade would not comment on the contents of the file released to the Coroners Court of Victoria late last year. However, the court has confirmed that the adjourned inquest is to resume after the court received of the long-awaited documents.

It is widely assumed those documents are the Australian Embassy’s David Wilson file in its entirety, which had been requested by then-State Coroner Graeme Johnstone at the start of the inquest in March 1998.

Both the coroner and Mr Wilson’s family initially requested the file, which Mr Gaisford said contains over three thousand pages of official records including secret cables sent from embassy officials to Canberra. The Foreign Affairs Department refused to release it to Mr Wilson’s family on the grounds of national security and took over 10 years to comply with the coroner’s request.

At the 1998 inquest, no government officials–consular or otherwise– attended or were called to serve as witnesses. It was only when Mr Gaisford approached the coroner that the court became aware of the missing file and delayed its findings until after it could view them.

“I’m sure when the coroner walked into the court that morning he had his decision all written up,” said Mr Gaisford. Since then, a new Coroners Act has been passed which broadens the mandate of the investigating judge.

“Now they have to investigate wider and deeper to make findings into the circumstances surrounding the death,” noted Mr Gaisford.

 

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