Migrant leader cops an official blast

by: Peter Rolfe From: Sunday Herald Sun

A LEADER of Melbourne's Lebanese community has been accused of threatening to "cause problems" for Australians visiting the Middle Eastern country unless he is shown more respect.
An official complaint has been made to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade against the Consulate-General of Lebanon in Melbourne, Henri Castoun, for alleged interference in local government issues.

But Mr Castoun has denied the claims and said the dispute was a matter of Australian-Lebanese politics.

Foreign Affairs Minister Kevin Rudd has been called on to settle the dispute, which broke out in the Lebanese community over who should unveil a statue in honour of Australia's Lebanese migrants.

Darebin Mayor Diana Asmar has asked Mr Rudd, Attorney-General Robert McClelland and Lebanese ambassador Jean Daniel to intervene amid claims Mr Castoun threatened to report members of Melbourne's Lebanese community to the Lebanese Government unless he was given a greater role in unveiling the statue.

In a letter to Ms Asmar, World Lebanese Cultural Union president Yousseff Saba claimed Mr Castoun had threatened to "write to the Lebanese Foreign Minister and lodge a formal complaint", which could "indirectly cause problems for Australian Lebanese citizens visiting Lebanon".

A senior member of Melbourne's Lebanese community said reporting someone to Lebanese authorities was a serious matter.

"When you say to someone from Lebanon you are going to report them, it means they are going to put their life in danger," he said. "It means they are going to have someone waiting for you at the airport."

Robert Richter, QC, said Mr Castoun's alleged actions appeared in breach of human rights.

But Mr Castoun told the Sunday Herald Sun he had wanted to be part of the ceremony and had been misunderstood.

"The allegations are completely untrue. I didn't intervene - I just made my position clear," he said.

A Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokeswoman, Sandra O'Malley, said the department was aware of issues raised about Lebanon's consul-general in Melbourne.

"DFAT is considering the Mayor's concerns," she said.

The statue was unveiled by Ms Asmar and federal Assistant Treasurer Bill Shorten in Preston yesterday.



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