Subject: SMH: Australia's $20 Spymaster Expelled from East Timor

Sydney Morning Herald April 18, 2000

Expelled: Australia's $20 spymaster

By MARK DODD at Laktutus Border Checkpoint, West Timor and DAVID LAGUE

An Australian soldier will be ordered out of East Timor over a $20 spying operation in Indonesian West Timor which has embarrassed Australia and prompted a high-level apology from the United Nations to Indonesia.

At a border meeting in West Timor yesterday, the commander of the UN peacekeepers in East Timor, Lieutenant-General Jaime de los Santos, personally apologised to the Indonesian defence force chief, Admiral Widodo, for the incident and promised an immediate inquiry.

"I have talked to Admiral Barrie, the Chief of the Defence Force of Australia, and I told him the soldier should be repatriated immediately to Australia," he said.

Captain Dan Hurren, an Australian Defence Force spokesman, told the Herald an unnamed Australian peacekeeper based in southwest Suai paid an East Timorese man $20 last week to collect information about suspected militia strongholds around Atambua in Indonesian West Timor.

A senior UN officer in East Timor yesterday warned that the soldier's action had risked damaging efforts to improve co-operation between UN peacekeepers and Indonesian troops along the sensitive Timor border.

The incident highlights difficulties for the peacekeepers as they counter persistent militia incursions allegedly backed by the Indonesian military.

A Defence Department spokesman in Canberra last night confirmed that the UN Transitional Authority in East Timor (UNTAET) was conducting an investigation into the spying claims.

He said media reports of the incident were "basically accurate" but that there had been no request from the UN to send the soldier home. "If they did so, Australia would obviously give serious consideration to that request," he said.

The spokesman rejected suggestions it was a serious setback for the peacekeepers. "It is a relatively innocent act by a relatively junior member of the UNTAET force," he said.

But General de los Santos said, at a joint news conference with Admiral Widodo:

"Under the charter of the United Nations military intelligence is not authorised and also under our mandate we cannot go all the way into West Timor.

"I have repeatedly told my subordinate commanders not to do this because it is a violation. The incident which happened was very unfortunate and I condemn this action."

General de los Santos described the spying incident as a "personal initiative on the part of one soldier".

A formal inquiry is under way by the commander of Sector West, Brigadier Duncan Lewis, from Australia.

Captain Hurran said preliminary findings showed a junior soldier had asked a Timorese man returning to West Timor to visit relatives to report incidental information on "suspected militia activity".

The soldier had acted without authority and steps had been taken to ensure there was no further "unauthorised activity", he said.

Army officials in Canberra said that under the original, Australian-led multinational force for East Timor (Interfet), the soldier's actions would have been permitted as "grass roots intelligence gathering", but this was not allowed under UNTAET's mandate.

The incident has further soured relations between the Australian and Indonesian defence forces, already at rock bottom over the lead role taken by Canberra in deploying Interfet last September.

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