Subject: Former defence adviser says Alkatiri sought spy unit

AP Newsfeed

June 9, 2006 Friday 12:37 PM AEST

Fed: Former defence adviser says Alkatiri sought spy unit

Paul Osborne


A former defence consultant to the East Timorese government says Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri had sought advice on how to spy on his opponents.

Dr Alkatiri has been accused of organising and arming a group of civilians to get rid of political opponents after the most recent unrest in his country.

Retired army Colonel Bob Lowry, who was one of 200 advisers attached to the United Nations mission in East Timor in 2002, said the fledgling country's police and military had been wracked with problems.

Mr Lowry said a number of suggestions on how to develop a national security strategy were presented to Dr Alkatiri in late 2002.

"We went to the prime minister to outline these ideas and he said at the end of it `Well, that is all very good but that's not what we want' and he indicated what he really wanted was a little intelligence agency," Mr Lowry told an Australian National University forum today.

"I'd seen enough at this stage to realise what that intelligence agency would be used for.

"It wouldn't be very much to do with normal intelligence activities but keeping check on what the opposing political parties and community groups that seemed to be hostile to the government might be doing."

Mr Lowry said he was not interested in helping Dr Alkatiri to set up the unit.

"It was crazy that here we were, potentially in 18 months having the responsibility for defence and security handed back to the government but not putting any policy mechanism in place to actually analyse what the country needed and come up with reasonable policies," he said.

"There was disagreement between the president and the prime minister based on the constitutional arrangements as to who was actually going to run defence and security."

Mr Lowry said he also faced opposition from the ex-Indonesian police officer in charge of the new police force, who had told him his national security draft plan would "only serve to fuel speculation and discontent" in the force.

He said tensions in the military, which he described as a "purposeless and fractious rabble", had existed for many years and a number of investigations had been undertaken but reports had been kept secret.

"Although these reports were never made public one of the issues that was raised was the fact that the westerners who were now in the 1st Battalion as new recruits (which was comprised mainly of people from the east of the country) felt that they were being discriminated against in terms of pay and conditions and opportunities for promotion and appointments," Mr Lowry said.

The sacking of about 600 soldiers over their protests against poor pay and conditions was one of the triggers of the most recent violence in East Timor.

"It's a cry of frustration and disgust that the government has not addressed these things when they have been so obvious for so long," he said.

Mr Lowry said the solution lay in appointing a single minister responsible for national security, reviewing whether an army is needed at all, and reorganising the police force under a respected police chief.


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