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The secret past of Aussie aid worker
By KATRINA CREER
THE SUNDAY TELEGRAPH [Sydney, Australia]
April 11, 1999, Sunday
FULLPAGE, LOCAL; Pg. 20


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'He was letting the UN know what Iraq was doing - he was observing - and so Iraq put a price on his head, and they had to get him out of there quickly'

CAPTIVE Australian relief worker Steve Pratt supplied information about Iraqi forces to the United Nations (UN) during the Gulf war.

Mr Pratt's mother, Mavis, said yesterday her son helped the UN as he worked in northern Iraq to help Kurdish refugees.

Mrs Pratt also revealed that her son had been personally invited to join CARE Australia by then prime minister Malcolm Fraser.

"He was letting the UN know what Iraq was doing -he was observing -so Iraq put a price on his head, and they had to get him out of there quickly," she said. "It was just one of the fleeting things that has happened through Steven's life.

"He has a habit of getting into strife, and his own good way of getting out of it."

Mr Pratt, 49 -who has a 14-yearold son in Canberra -and environmental scientist Peter Wallace, 30, have been missing for 11 days in Yugoslavia.

They are reported to be alive, but detained by Yugoslav authorities.

Mrs Pratt said her son, a logistics expert, was a former Australian army officer who was employed by CARE, regardless of his involvement with the UN.

Mr Pratt returns to Australia twice every three years to catch up with his close-knit family.

He contacts them only a few times a year and had hoped to come back to Australia for a few months at the end of this year.

Mr Pratt apparently became disillusioned with the army before being invited by Malcolm Fraser to join CARE in the 1970s.

"It was back when the army was going nowhere. There were no wars, and all he was doing was training -and Malcolm Fraser knew that," Mrs Pratt said.

"He was friendly with a lot of Liberal politicians, and Malcom Fraser thought he was a good fellow to work for CARE."

Mr Pratt entered the army after completing Year 10 and graduated from Portsea Military College, in Victoria.

He last contacted his family just before Christmas, when he left a message saying he had "good news" and would be home in January.

The family rightly assumed the news was that Mr Pratt and his second wife, Samira, were expecting their first child.

He also phoned his son, saying he would be back home soon for a week.

But his family is now uncertain whether Mr Pratt made it to Australia before being called back to the Serbian crisis.

Mr Pratt has spent time helping refugees in the world's most notorious trouble spots, including Somalia, Yemen, Iraq and Rwanda.

According to his brother, Stuart, he was frustrated that he had become cut off from refugees and was no longer able to co-ordinate aid from his base in Belgrade.

The lines of communication were

  <<<-[Page 021]->>>

down, and he and Mr Wallace were reportedly trying to go to where the refugees were when they were caught at the border.

Both men were driving UNmarked four-wheel-drive vehicles when they were stopped.

Mr Pratt's family has asked CARE Australia and the Foreign Affairs Department why the aid workers would have been detained, but have not received any concrete answers.

"The who, where and why, we don't know and we haven't been given any indication," Stuart Pratt said.

"Australia is an ally of NATO and that is the only thing I can think that would make people hostile.

"It's in a time of war, and I think anything can happen.

"As far as I'm concerned, he's working purely for Care Australia."

Mr Pratt grew up at Gosford, where his father, Ben, now dead, was a shire clerk.

The eldest of four children, he has two brothers -Stuart and Ian -and a younger sister, Elizabeth, all aged in their 40s. The family was keen on golf, but Mr Pratt never considered himself a sportsman; instead, he joined the local cadets.

Mr Pratt was involved in local campaigns and helped with the clean-up after Cyclone Tracy, in Darwin.

Stuart Pratt said the work was demanding, and the brothers did not get much time to communicate.

"I was surprised when his face appeared on TV the week before he went missing -in terms of his appearance, he looked worn out and run down," he said.

Usually, when Mr Pratt arrives home, the family likes to get together and listen to his overseas adventures.

During an aid mission in Rwanda, Mr Pratt was caught in crossfire as he tried to help refugees leave under fire.

"He had to do some fancy footwork to get out of there," his brother said.

"Steve's work can be dangerous.

I don't think it's supposed to be, but I think that where there are refugees, there's danger."

Copyright 1999 Nationwide News Pty Limited   * Posted for Fair Use Only


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