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Peacekeepers may be added to roll of honour

The Australian War Memorial is about to consider an historic reversal of policy to allow the names of peacekeepers killed on active service to be added to the roll of honour of war dead.

Members of the council will meet in Canberra early next week, with the controversial issue high on their agenda.

Relatives of peacekeepers killed on overseas service are agitating for the names of their loved ones to be added to the roll of honour which is currently reserved for names of Australian soldiers killed on duty.

The Coalition is adding to pressure for change ahead of the meeting, sending letters to war memorial chairman Rear Admiral Ken Doolan and newly-appointed director, Brendan Nelson.

"The Coalition would fully support any decision by the council of the Australian War Memorial to include all peacekeepers killed whilst serving their country on the roll of honour," Opposition veterans affairs spokesman Michael Ronaldson said.

Dr Nelson, a former Defence Minister and Opposition Leader, set himself on a collision course with veteran groups when he told The Canberra Times in December he would make the issue a priority by meeting peacekeeper campaigners and walking along the roll of honour.

"As the chairman of the council said after its November meeting, he would continue to consult widely on the issue and it would be considered again at the March meeting," Dr Nelson told Fairfax Media on Tuesday.

"As would be expected of the new director, I have been assisting the chairman in that role."

The peacekeepers roll was previously in a glass cabinet that was locked and members of the public had to ask for the key to open it.

Late last year the policy was changed to provide open access, with the book now located in an alcove at one end of the poppy-strewn bronze panels that honour Australia's 103,000 war dead.

The governing council voted unanimously in November to reject a petition with 17,800 signatures calling for a change in the policy.

Victorian RSL president Major-General David McLachlan has said it was important to preserve the character of the roll of honour in recognising those who died fighting for Australia at war.

The chiefs of the army, navy and airforce, who are represented on the council, are believed to endorse the opposition of veterans' groups to any change that might dilute the status of the roll of honour.

However the Australian Defence Association's executive director Neil James says it is inevitable the memorial would have to change its rules.

He has said there were at least 12 Australian service personnel, shot dead or killed on peacekeeping operations since 1945, whose cases for recognition were beyond argument.

Last November the Senate passed a motion for the war memorial to honour peacekeepers on the roll of honour after Senators heard a moving account of their sacrifices during overseas service.

The ANU"s Peter Londey who is a member of the team writing the official history of Australian peacekeeping, humanitarian and post-cold war operations, has called for peacekeepers to be included on the roll of honour.

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