Subject: The Age: Black Hawks boost Timor firepower

The Age July 28, 2000

Black Hawks boost Timor firepower


Australia is beefing up its forces in East Timor with four Black Hawk helicopters and 100 extra troops after an escalation of violence between United Nations peacekeepers and pro-Jakarta militia groups.

The helicopters will give Australia's 1500-strong peacekeeping force greater firepower and the ability to patrol the West Timorese border after dark using the helicopters' advanced night vision equipment.

The decision to reinforce Australian forces follows the killing of a New Zealand soldier by militia gunmen on the East Timor-West Timor border earlier this week, although Defence Minister John Moore insisted the decision to deploy the potent Black Hawks was made several weeks ago.

The original Australian-led InterFET force was assisted by 12 Black Hawks that were withdrawn in February, and battalion commanders on the ground in East Timor have been keen to get back their night vision capability.

Defence Force chief Admiral Chris Barrie made a special tour of the border area under Australian control three-and-a-half weeks ago at the request of ground forces in East Timor and agreed to send in four of the army's prized 36-strong helicopter fleet.

Without the Black Hawks' night vision, Australian forces have been prevented from conducting night reconnaissance missions from the air and assessing key militia group movements overnight. The Black Hawks will give Australian troops the ability to strike back at night if fired upon by militias.

Private Leonard Manning, 24, was shot dead on Monday as NZ troops tracked militia fighters along East Timor's border with West Timor near Suai. He is the first combat casualty since peacekeepers arrived in East Timor in September.

Mr Moore said the extra troops and helicopters would join the Australian troops already stationed in East Timor as part of the UN transitional administration early next month.

Mr Moore said the government made the decision under UN sanction after Admiral Barrie's visit to East Timor. "This decision is not a reaction to what happened to Private Manning - it was a decision made by the government some weeks ago," he said.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said the extra troops would give Australian forces greater flexibility. There have been periodic exchanges of gunfire between peacekeepers and militia groups since last year. In May an Australian soldier suffered shrapnel wounds from a grenade thrown by a militiaman near the border.

Mr Moore said Australia was satisfied with the UN command, but said more had to be done to weaken the militia groups operating from refugee camps.

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