No need for Australians to get out: Howard

Posted in Other | 13-Apr-04 | Source: The Age (Australia)

There was no need to order Australian civilians working in Iraq to leave the war-torn country despite a spate of hostage taking, Prime Minister John Howard said today.

Eleven Russians working for an energy company have been kidnapped in Baghdad today, amid growing fears for at least 16 foreigners who have been abducted or are reported missing in Iraq.

Three Japanese hostages are still being held by their captors, while seven kidnapped Chinese have been freed.

But Mr Howard said while the hostage situation was worrying, it did not mean Australians should pull out of Iraq.

"Everybody is at some degree of risk and we are in contact through our office as best we can with the 60-80 Australian contractors who are doing different things there," Mr Howard told the Nine Network.

"I am not asking them to get out.

"I act on advice in matters relating to this.

"Obviously the whole situation is more difficult, but it is certainly not a situation where there can be any weakening of the resolve of countries involved.

"We must see it through. Any suggestion that we get out now in the face of this now will just award victory to the terrorists, award victory to hostage takers, award victory to people I know the great majority of Australians don't want to appear victorious."

Mr Howard said Australia had an obligation to see its work in Iraq through and that Australian troops would remain "until the purpose for which they were sent no longer requires their presence".

"I get regular reports about the welfare of our own people and I will continue to do that," he said.

"They are my prime concern.

"But in concert with our friends and allies we have to remember that if there's a weakening now it will be an enormous victory for terrorists and hostage takers and an enormous blow to the authority of not only those countries but also the values that we hold very dear as a nation."

Mr Howard described the hostage situation in Iraq as difficult, but said there was still much progress being made by the coalition there and he was confident things would improve.

"The most worrying development is the indiscriminate taking of hostages and this is occurring irrespective of the citizenry of the people being taken hostage," he said.

"It is difficult but that is all the more reason why we don't turn our backs on it.

"This is the worst time in the world to turn your back on a difficult situation.

"It couldn't send a worst signal not only to those who would destroy and terrorise but also to our friends.

"At a time like this you need to display strong friendship, not fly by night friendship."