Retaliation by Yugoslavia is expected to be swift. The most likely course is that it will expel the two consular staff in the Australian embassy in Belgrade and perhaps two or three other staff. Trade retaliation is considered unlikely because trade between the countries is miniscule and Yugoslavia would suffer more.
Sydney police, taking a different view of the law to the Federal Government’s, planned to arrest Mr. Matijas once the consulate was closed and its staff declared personae non gratae, and charge him with malicious shooting with the intent to do grievous bodily harm.
But the Foreign Minister, Senator Evans, convinced the New South Wales Premier, Mr. Greiner, that the Commonwealth view should prevail. The Federal Government believes it is obliged by international law to guarantee safe conduct of the expelled Yugoslavs, including Mr. Matijas.
The different legal positions taken by Canberra and NSW had threatened a confrontation, with the prospect of federal authorities having to protect Mr. Matijas from arrest. Mr. Greiner said his Government agreed to cooperate with the expulsion after a written request from Senator Evans.
The Yugoslavs will leave Sydney on a flight to Belgrade at 2:15pm tomorrow, 28 hours before the deadline.
Earlier, the Opposition spokesman on foreign affairs, Mr. Spender, said Canberra should do nothing to stop Mr. Matijas being arrested. Its interpretation of its obligation under the Vienna convention on consular protection was “plainly wrong.”
The Yugoslav Foreign Minister, Mr. Loncar, yesterday morning summoned the Australian charge d’affaires, Mr. Peter Shannon, and told him that if Australia did not reconsider its ultimatum Yugoslavia would “act with reciprocity.”
Senator Evans said last night that Australia hoped that common sense would prevail and Yugoslavia would recognise that the Government was behaving in the only way possible. “It’s hardly a case for reciprocal action.”
The Yugoslav ambassador, Dr Boris Cizelj, said last night: “Such a harsh measure by Australia cannot go without causing serious harm in the relationship, and we cannot rule out retaliation… There are certain principles followed by all countries, and mine is no exception.”
Senator Evans said the Government had told representatives of the Croat community, which organised Sunday’s protest, it was regrettable that Mr. Matijas should escape justice. Expulsion was the second-best option, but Australia would be open to challenge in the International Court of Justice.
He said the Government had told Yugoslavia it reserved its right to claim compensation for Josef Tokic, through government-to-government litigation in the International Court or by helping the Tokic family to sue Yugoslavia in the NSW Supreme Court.