Subject: E.Timor's Horta doubts Australian troop misconduct

Also: Atrocity inquiry baffles Timorese

Received from Joyo Indonesia News

E.Timor's Horta doubts Australian troop misconduct

YOGYAKARTA, Indonesia, Oct 5 (Reuters) - East Timor's Foreign Minister Jose Ramos-Horta said on Saturday he doubted allegations Australian troops tortured pro-Jakarta militiamen and shot one in the head during a peace mission in the territory in 1999.

The Australian military revealed two years ago it was investigating alleged misconduct by its elite Special Air Service (SAS) over an ambush near East Timor's border town of Suai in which two militiamen were killed and others captured.

But the incident was thrust back into the spotlight on Thursday by reports that U.N. investigators had exhumed the bodies of the two militia members and would investigate allegations one of them was shot or kicked in the head.

"I don't think there was any torture or any deliberate harm done (to the militiamen)," Ramos-Horta told Reuters on the sidelines of a meeting between six Southwest Pacific nations in the Indonesian city of Yogyakarta.

But the former Timorese independence campaigner said he had full confidence in Australia's military to probe the matter.

"If the information is well founded, they will take the necessary action within Australia," he added.

The allegations threaten to sully the highly-praised role Australia played in leading a United Nations force in East Timor after a vote for independence from Indonesia sparked violence by pro-Jakarta militia.

The U.N., which ran the territory after the vote and until formal independence in May this year, estimates around 1,000 people were killed in the mayhem.

The investigation is examining allegations over the cause of one of the men's deaths on October 6, 1999, and claims some of the prisoners were treated brutally and tortured during interrogation.

The U.N. exhumed the bodies as part of a routine procedure into violent deaths.

East Timor, a former Portuguese colony, was accepted as the 191st member of the U.N. late last month.

Although the U.N. has transferred its local powers to the new government, its peacekeepers are still active there.

Atrocity inquiry baffles Timorese

By Rory Callinan 08oct02 Daily Telegraph (Australia)

INVESTIGATING Australian soldiers for killing or mistreating militia is beyond belief to residents of the tiny town of Suai in the remote southwest of East Timor.

Australian SAS soldiers have a special significance for villagers who survived what was the worst militia massacre in the former Indonesian province in 1999.

The army is investigating soldiers for alleged atrocities committed against militia.

"They protected us. They were heroes," said local mother Domingos dos Santos Muzinho.

Australian soldiers moved into the area and drove the militia out on October 6, 1999.

A month earlier, the 44-year-old mother had been among a group of residents hiding in a Suai church when a militia gang arrived from West Timor. She watched as the gang went on a rampage in the church grounds killing the priest and shooting her daughter just metres from where she was hiding.

The militia also hurled two hand-grenades into the church. When they ran, the militia chopped them down with machetes or shot them, she said. Two other priests were shot as they appealed for mercy for parishioners.

"The militia came back to take things and attack the people," she said. "They had guns. There was nothing we could do." The army last week said it had called in the United Nations' serious crimes unit to exhume the bodies of two militia killed near Suai during the massacre.

The bodies are expected to be forensically examined for signs of brutality or execution at close range as part of the investigation.

"That is wrong. It is nonsense," Mrs dos Santos said.

"The militia they do so many bad things. They kill us. They kill the priests. They would have done more if it was not for the Australians."

In May, the mother of five appeared before a human rights tribunal to testify against five members of the Indonesian military. She was the first East Timorese civilian to testify in the trials and one of only four witnesses who agreed to answer a summons by the Indonesian authorities.

The alleged ringleaders of the militia escaped justice despite her testimony.

She said the trials in Jakarta were pointless because all those most responsible had escaped justice.

"Now they are doing this to the Australians," she said. "It doesn't make sense."

Local human rights groups say between 50 and 200 people were killed in the 1999 Suai massacre.

Even former militia who have returned to live in the district via the UN's supervised reconciliation process yesterday did not express anger towards the Australian soldiers.

Valdemar Dacari said he was a low-ranked member of a militia gang which was looting Suai houses for food when the Australians confronted them.

"They searched me and then blindfolded me and then they took us to Dili in a helicopter.""They hit me with a rubber hose across the back of the neck and the back and they were shouting things to me.

"But I did not understand because there was no interpreter. They gave us just a teaspoon of water."

But he said he was angry about his treatment. "I wasn't frightened. I was not part of the bad militia," he said. "I am not angry with Australian soldiers over this. It just happened that way."

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