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Peacekeepers may join war dead roll

Director Brendan Nelson at the Roll of Honour.

Director Brendan Nelson at the Roll of Honour. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

The Australian War Memorial is about to consider a 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, facing new pressure from veterans and the Coalition for a change of heart.

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 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.

Two veterans groups are combining to put pressure on the council to change its policy.

The Vietnam Veterans Association and the Peacekeeper and Peacemaker Veterans' Association called for 48 peacekeepers who have died in service of Australia to be adequately recognised by the memorial.

The organisations said their research suggested a very large number of those on the roll of honour did not die as a direct result of combat but from disease and accidents.

"To undertake such an invasive and insensitive criterion would open a huge can of worms and could only be seen as an attempt to further exclude these 48 members," Peacekeeper and Peacemaker Veterans' Association president Allan Thomas said.

Vietnam Veterans Association president Ron Coxon said his association supported including peacemakers on the roll of honour, contrary to recent media reports.

''This is a very simple decision to make in the favour of those who served our country, their families and friends - to be forever remembered in the nation's capital,'' he said.

Dr Nelson, a former Defence Minister and Opposition leader, set himself on a collision course with veteran groups when he said 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 said on Tuesday.

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 air force, 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.

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