Subject: AU: Unleash diggers on militia: E Timor

Unleash diggers on militia: E Timor The Australian 23 Jan 03

By John Kerin and Terry Plane

EAST Timorese Foreign Minister Jose Ramos Horta wants Australia's UN peacekeepers to be involved in joint operations with the East Timor Defence Force to combat Indonesian military-backed militia raids on the fledgling country.

Mr Ramos Horta said yesterday incursions backed by elements of Kopassus, Indonesia's notorious special forces, had become increasingly serious yet the UN and the Australian Government considered the matters to be a low priority.

He added that Australia, which contributes about 1100 out of 4400 peacekeepers, should apply pressure to ensure the UN could conduct joint operations against the militia.

"The Australians are professional and brave but they need to work with the East Timorese Defence Force to combat these incursions," Mr Ramos Horta said. "That is the crux of the matter." He said the downsizing of the UN peacekeeping force should stop until the "militias who train in West Timor (with) sophisticated weapons" were overcome. The comments follow claims by an East Timorese government official on Monday that the country was facing the greatest security threat since becoming an independent nation last May. West Timorese militia armed by elements of Kopassus, according to a UN report revealed by The Australian yesterday, made incursions into East Timor on January 4 and January 13. The official claimed Australian UN peacekeepers were reluctant to get involved in local policing matters and the incursions were repelled by villagers and Portuguese troops. Although the mandate for the UN-sponsored force is to be formally reviewed in May, an Australian government source said yesterday it was almost certain it would be extended to May 2004.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said yesterday that while he was concerned about the cross-border raids, there was no evidence they had been armed by Kopassus. Mr Downer said there had been no request from the East Timorese for Australian government help to repel the incursions. "The peacekeeping force isn't an Australian peacekeeping force," Mr Downer said. "There are Australians who play a very big part in the peacekeeping force but this is a United Nations peacekeeping force.

"There have been a couple of incidents during January which have been a concern for us. "(But) this is a matter between the United Nations and the East Timorese, it isn't a matter that directly involves the Australian Government."

Opposition foreign affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd said the Government was so preoccupied with the deployment of troops to Iraq that it was ignoring the threats to East Timor. "This view . . . is dangerously naive and demonstrates just how distracted the Government has become by Iraq."


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