Subject: SMH: Indonesian soldier dies in clash with peacekeepers

Sydney Morning Herald July 31, 2001

Indonesian soldier dies in clash with peacekeepers

By Mark Dodd, Herald Correspondent in Dili and agencies

United Nations peacekeepers in East Timor are to boost security along its western border after an Indonesian soldier was shot dead in a gun battle with New Zealand troops.

A spokesman for the peacekeeping force, Captain Isabelito Sanchez, said yesterday that extra troops would be deployed along the border with Indonesian West Timor to prevent anti-independence militiamen from entering the territory and causing unrest before the August 30 election.

"We are increasing patrol operations to ensure no infiltrators can get through from the west, which could affect the peaceful outcome of the elections," he said.

The 21-year-old Indonesian sergeant was shot dead in a clash with New Zealand soldiers on Saturday. Identified by an Indonesian local military commander as First Sergeant Lirman Hadimu, he was out of uniform and had fired at the peacekeepers from the West Timor side of the border, Captain Sanchez said.

A New Zealand Army spokesman, Captain Mark Richards, said yesterday that the commanding officer of the Indonesian troops on the western side of the Timor border had told the UN he accepted responsibility for the incident.

The exchange of fire, the first border violence during East Timor's election campaign, occurred on Saturday afternoon, about four kilometres south-west of the border hamlet of Tilomar, near Suai.

UN reconnaissance flights over the area on Friday and Saturday had reported several sightings of unidentified armed men.

Two hours before the fatal shooting, five men had been seen outside Tilomar heading back towards the Indonesian border. They were unarmed, dressed in civilian clothes and carrying back packs.

The Australian commander in charge of the western border, Brigadier Richard Wilson, said his troops were on increased alert in the run-up to the Constituent Assembly elections.

The peacekeepers patrolling the border comprise about 2,350 combat troops, including a battalion each from New Zealand and Australia reinforced by soldiers from Singapore, Fiji, Nepal and Ireland. Brigadier Wilson said the troops were fully prepared to counter any militia violence and were bracing for possible terrorist attacks by anti-independence hardliners trying to gain publicity during the election period.

"We can't rule out the possibility of ex-militia causing problems, although we believe the rank and file are declining in number," he said.

Under the UN rules of engagement peacekeepers based along the border are allowed to shoot without warning any person brandishing a weapon in a threatening manner.

The New Zealand Prime Minister, Ms Helen Clark, said Wellington "very much regretted that the incident resulted in the death of an Indonesian soldier" but the New Zealand patrol's actions were in accordance with the rules of engagement.

New Zealand, which has about 700 troops in East Timor, has suffered four fatalities during the peacekeeping mission, which began in October 1999.

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