Subject: Aussie WWll vets pay tribute to their brave Timor 'companions'

Sydney Morning Herald April 14, 2000

Veterans pay tribute to their brave 'companions'

Their ranks have thinned, they are nearly all in their 80s with snowy white hair, and they cried tears of joy to be back in East Timor for what will probably be their last visit.

They are among the veterans of "Sparrow Force", the Australian commandos whose hit-and-run tactics tied down 12,000 Japanese troops in one of World War II's most successful guerilla actions, fought across this tiny half-island territory.

Six survivors from the 2nd/2nd Independent Company returned to Dili yesterday to acknowledge the kindness shown by East Timorese during their year-long campaign.

The ceremony paid homage to the estimated 60,000 East Timorese who died as a result of Japanese brutality following the withdrawal of Sparrow Force on December 16, 1942.

The veterans were unanimous in their praise of the East Timorese "criados" - their companions.

The deputy UN military commander in East Timor, Major-General Mike Smith, said the East Timorese had been the Australians' "eyes and ears", and without their help many more soldiers' lives would have been lost.

One former Sparrow Force commando, Paddy Kenneally, 84, from NSW, said Australia still owes a huge debt to the East Timorese.

"You cannot repay the debt in lives of 45,000 to 60,000 people who died because we came into East Timor in 1941 - and for our behaviour from 1974 until the end of 1999, we just kept on accruing more debt," he said.

Mr Kenneally said he had only contempt for Australian politicians who had ignored the plight of the East Timorese since Indonesia's bloody 1975 invasion.

Yesterday's ceremony took place in the hills near the seminary town of Dare overlooking Dili, and near the site of a World War II Sparrow Force observation post used to spy on the Japanese forces.

The site on the Dili to Aileu road was built in 1969 by the veterans and is marked by a plaque, a concrete shelter and swimming pool for locals. Refurbishment was carried out by Australian soldiers serving with the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor.

Following speeches, including one in the local Tetum language by a former commando, Ray Aitkin from Western Australia, schoolchildren presented garlands, and performed traditional songs and dances for the veterans. They were moved to tears.

"I'm that happy for these people. I hope they have a long period of peace and happiness and freedom," Mr Kenneally said.

By Mark Dodd, Herald Correspondent in Fatunaba

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