17/11/2010 01:31:54
Australian government defends granting visa to Congo official
The Australian Federal Government has defended a decision to grant a visa to a Congolese government official being investigated for human rights abuses.
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A red flag was triggered at the Department of Immigration when Pierre Oba applied for a visa to visit Perth this week for meetings with four mining companies.

The department was alerted because of a legal case involving Mr Oba over the alleged massacre of more than 350 refugees in the late 1990s when he was Congo's interior and security minister.

Human rights groups and relatives of the missing say it is apparent they were tortured and executed.

Mr Oba has never been convicted of having knowledge of or involvement in the alleged massacre, but legal proceedings are underway in France.

Former Australian high commissioner to Zambia and ambassador to Angola, Professor Helen Ware, says the decision to allow Mr Oba to enter the country could affect Australia's international reputation.

"Australia likes to pride itself on its human right record. There must come a point where we say there are some people we don't wish to grant visas to," she said.

"We seem to be very keen to do it in the cases of asylum seekers, but in the cases of very dubious African mining ministers we seem to be much more willing to stretch a point."

It is quite rare for the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT) to intervene in these matters, but in this case it did.

In a statement to PM, DFAT said it was aware of the allegations against Mr Oba but that he had never been subject to any arrest warrant and had never been brought before a judge.

Acting Prime Minister Chris Evans has defended the department's decision to grant the visa.

"I understand he moves freely around Europe. There are allegations but there are no charges outstanding as I've been informed so he's free to move as he sees fit," he said.

"We make a risk-based assessment in Australia on all people who apply to visit the country and the departments have made a risk-based assessment that he proposes no risk.

"It occurred under normal processes and those judgments are made by the departments against normal risk profiles.

"I don't think there's been any political engagement with this issue other than the normal processes that occur."

Mining link

Professor Ware says he should not have been allowed in the country.

She says there are two main reasons why DFAT would intervene to grant Mr Oba a visa.

"One, obviously, is there's clearly a mining link," she said.

"The second one which is that people may remember that there was the very tragic aeroplane accident in Congo involving an Australian mining company in June this year and apparently we are saying thank you for the collaboration of the Congolese government in finding the wreckage and also in repatriating the bodies."

Six executives from the mining company Sundance Resources were killed in that June plane cash.

A Sundance spokesman says it was one of four companies who invited Mr Oba to Perth for various meetings and briefings.

He says the company was unaware of any allegations of human rights abuses against the mining minister and that he was polite, courteous and business-like during his visit.

The West Australian newspaper reports Mr Oba denied any involvement of the disappearance of the refugees, had no knowledge of any investigation implicating him and that the claims from human rights groups were false.

Mr Oba left the country on Thursday.


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