6 July 1995
CAMBODIA: WILSON CASE: ALLEGATIONS BY SAM RAINSY
Sam Rainsy, ex Finance Minister in the Cambodian Government is reported today as alleging that the Cambodian Government deliberately sacrificed David Wilson and his two companions for political ends.
As I understand it, he alleges that the Cambodian Government wanted to push the Khmer Rouge into killing the hostages to ensure that foreign governments condemned the Khmer Rouge and provided military assistance. He alleges therefore that the Cambodian Government had no serious intention of paying a ransom to secure the release of the hostages.
Sam Rainsy reportedly admits that he has no concrete proof for his allegations. We have no record or recollection of him bringing these allegations to the attention of the Australian Government during or after the conclusion of the hostage drama.
For reasons spelt out fully below, I do not believe there is any substance in the allegations; there is, moreover, reason to question Sam Rainsy's motivation in making them.
My strong sympathy and that of the many officials dealing with this tragic case, goes out to the Wilson family. Once again they are confronted by rumour and innuendo which cannot be proved and causes them further acute distress that everything was not done to save David.
Foreign governments do not need to be given additional proof of the murderous nature of the Khmer Rouge. Everyone is aware of their horrible record of mass murder, torture, starvation and atrocities that defy the belief of any civilised mind. The Cambodians know that we know. In my many meetings with the principal figures of the Cambodian leadership the issue of additional proof of the unacceptable nature of the Khmer Rouge has never arisen. The brutal nature of the KR had only recently been demonstrated in the abduction and killing of Kellie Wilkinson and Dominic Chappell Sam Rainsy's allegation is absurd.
The Cambodian government had no reason to doubt Australia's commitment to continued support. During the course of the hostage drama I was in close touch with the co- Prime Ministers and the Foreign Minister of Cambodia. They had my written assurance that Australia's policies and commitments towards Cambodia remained fully in tact and that we would not bow to what amounted to a crude blackmail attempt by the Khmer Rouge. The Cambodian Government understood that it was my policy to say as little as possible about the hostage case, particularly about the possibility of increased defence assistance from
Australia, in order not to raise the political stakes for the hostages, and to maximise the chances that the matter could be solved at the local level.
I specifically made no comment on the many occasions when the media questioned me about the state of play in the hostage drama. Even today I take the view that constant media concentration on this issue plays into the hands of the Khmer Rouge and increases the dangers for foreigners in Cambodia: a point I would suggest that Sam Rainsy take into account in future before he makes allegations for which he admits he has no proof.
The issue of the ransom is more complex. It is the firm policy of the Australian Government not to pay ransoms. At the time the first ransom demand was made for David Wilson and his companions our Ambassador in Phnom Penh, on my instructions, made this clear to the Cambodian Government. So did the French and British Ambassadors. They made it clear, again on the instruction of their respective Governments that it was a Cambodian responsibility to negotiate the release of the hostages, and that it was for the Cambodian Government to decide the best means of achieving this. We did not tell the Cambodians not to pay. We did not seek to bind the Cambodian Government to any particular course of action.
We know the money, as mentioned by Sam Rainsy, was obtained by the Cambodian Government and given to the military officer in charge of the case. We believe the Cambodian negotiator attempted to pay the ransom. It appears that the effort to pay the ransom was what led to the high hopes of the release of the hostages in mid-August. We do not know what happened, but obviously and tragically it did not work.
We do not know what then happened to the money. As we understood it at the time, the money or what remained of it, was to be used to encourage the defection of the rank and file supporters of Noun Paet, the Khmer Rouge officer, who we all believe is chiefly responsible for this tragedy. Clearly the defection strategy did work.
We have no evidence then or now that the Cambodian Government was not acting in good faith in its efforts to secure the safe release of the hostages with or without a ransom. That there was corruption, confusion and mismanagement around the Phnom Vor where the hostages were held is something that I have never tried to hide. I covered this in the lengthy press statement I made on 3 November 1994 (copies available from my office). It is not a pretty picture, but in the circumstances of Cambodia it is surely not unexpected. Two decades of horrendous violence, in which those with education and professional training were all but wiped out, where the infrastructure is only rebuilt to a rudimentary level, do not lead to efficient command structures.
There is simply no evidence that the Cambodian Government acted towards us in bad faith and deliberately provoked the killing of the hostages. What Sam Rainsy forgets is that the Khmer Rouge do not need reasons to kill people. Logic dictates that it was in their interests to keep the hostages alive. After all they were a source of income and supplies.
The Cambodian Government and military knew from day one that the three governments wanted their respective citizens back alive. They had more to gain from our gratitude at their safe release than anything else. It is hard to see what Cambodia had to gain from the hostages death. Their capture was damaging to Cambodia's interests, to its tourism, to its economy, to its credibility and to its relations with Australia, Britain and France. The Cambodian Government had strong interest in seeing the hostages freed. I find Sam Rainsy's allegations,
for which he admits he has no hard evidence, not believable.
Sam Rainsy's Motivation
Why did he make these allegations? Sam Rainsy was a successful Finance Minister in the Cambodian Government, he is talented, hard working and took active steps to expose corruption. For this reason he fell foul of the political leadership of his own party, FUNCINPEC, from which he was expelled. More recently he was expelled from Parliament, apparently on the grounds that only members of parties can be members of Parliament. I made a press statement on this matter on 26 June because of a worrying trend that it reveals in Cambodian politics. I believe that these allegations are an attempt to undermine the credibility of Cambodia's leadership and sow dissension between it and Australia, Britain and France; three governments who take an active interest in supporting the democratically elected Cambodian Government both with aid, (in Australia's case civilian/humanitarian assistance amounting to $94 million over the current four year period) and some limited non-lethal defence assistance.
As far as the Government is concerned there is little point in again raking over what happened during the hostage case. There is every point in bringing Paet and his henchmen to justice. That is where the efforts of the Australian Government have been consistently and vigorously directed. We have the assurance of the Cambodian Government that there will be no amnesty for Paet and that they are trying to apprehend him. They fully understand that this is not negotiable for us and we understand that arresting leaders of the Khmer Rouge, is not a simple task. Once caught we want Paet brought before a court of law to be tried, and if convicted, punished for the murders of David Wilson and his companions.
Obviously, I cannot say when this might happen, but there are grounds to hope that it might be in the not too distant future. One of the suspected murderers of that other tragic Australian victim of the Khmer Rouge, Kellie Wilkinson, has been arrested, confessed to the crime and will shortly face trial.