Subject: Departing Aussie troops leave behind sex scandal

The Australian 21 Feb 2000

Diggers leave behind sex scandal


AS the last Interfet troops return home from East Timor this week, Australian soldiers have become embroiled in another embarrassing sexual harassment allegation, which the military has vehemently denied.

An East Timorese human rights watchdog, Yayasan-HAK, says young women in the town of Maliana, 70km south-west of Dili, claim drunken Australian soldiers indecently exposed themselves. The incident allegedly took place on January 9, just weeks after Interfet units were put on notice after two previous cases of sexual harassment.

The women involved in the latest incident complained to Interfet that about six Australian soldiers had been drinking at a roadside kiosk.

They claimed the men were urinating at the back of the kiosk when at least one man displayed his genitals and made sexual advances.

Force commander Major General Peter Cosgrove yesterday told The Australian a "pretty comprehensive" investigation had found no substance to the sexual harassment aspect of the complaint.

But he confirmed the army was searching for the soldiers suspected of being involved so they could be questioned.

General Cosgrove said the men "shouldn't have been there, I'm not sure they were out of bounds, but they shouldn't have been where they were".

"First we'd like to find them and then we'd ask them questions," he said.

The Military Police's preliminary investigation into the sex claims has been completed but the file will remain open until the men are found.

"I was, I guess, relieved that what was a nasty allegation had no substance in that (sexual) particular," General Cosgrove said.

But Yayasan-HAK spokesman Joaquim Fonasca said the women maintained their allegations.

The Maliana allegations follow well-publicised incidents in November and December where groups of soldiers entered the Dili home of a family of sisters at night shouting they "wanted a lady".

When the incidents were made public in mid-January General Cosgrove said he had no reason to doubt the women's word, that he "deplored" the acts reported and they were extremely isolated.

General Cosgrove yesterday produced figures showing only 3.5 per cent of Australian troops in East Timor had been subject to disciplinary proceedings, while 8.8 per cent had during the operation in Somalia and 17 per cent in Rwanda.

In the more recent harassment claims, it is understood the Australian army units in the area at the time have left Maliana and recently arrived in Australia or are completing their repatriation process out of Dili. The soldiers who had been at the kiosk are suspected to be included somewhere in those groups.

General Cosgrove seemed to indicate his investigators had not found the young women allegedly harassed, but had spoken to the kiosk operator who confirmed the drunken soldiers had been there but had not abused her.

Mr Fonasca said "the story had been kept closed for some time" and the human rights staff had only recently been called on.

"Up to some time, Interfet was very careful and endeavoured very hard to protect and preserve its good image in front of the international community and the East Timorese community," he said.

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