Subject: SMH: Australia has failed: Timor army chief

Sydney Morning Herald

Australia has failed: Timor army chief

Lindsay Murdoch in Dili October 28, 2006

THE commander of East Timor's army has called for an investigation into the behaviour of Australian troops in Dili, including claims they have taken sides in the conflict that plunged the country into violent upheaval.

Brigadier-General Taur Matan Ruak also called for Australia's troops to be put under United Nations command, saying their mission had obviously failed because six months after they arrived in the country Dili "looks like cowboy city".

Violence has escalated in Dili, with at least eight people killed and many injured in attacks this week, including two youths stabbed to death in a gang attack on Dili's waterfront yesterday.

"I am asking for an investigation so that the prestige of the Australian force can be recovered," General Ruak told the Herald in a rare interview.

"The reality is there have been a lot of accusations made. There are a lot of rumours going around. There is an enormous perception [that Australians are taking sides] and now it needs to be made clear that it doesn't exist."

Australia's commander in Dili, Brigadier Mal Rerden, strongly defended the behaviour of his 1000 troops, saying that in the past few days there had been an orchestrated campaign targeting the Australians to try to force them to leave the country.

"I think there are elements out there who have their own agenda, and there are criminal elements who prefer not to have a neutral professional force on the ground to control them," Brigadier Rerden said.

His force is trying to find out who was behind the rumours that have provoked gangs to throw rocks at Australian police and troop vehicles.

General Ruak said he would make a written submission to the East Timorese Government calling for "state bodies" to conduct the investigation.

Having Australian troops and UN forces under different commands had failed, he said.

"One says to go up and one says to go down," he said. "When dealing with a conflict there should only be one commander."

Australia lobbied strongly in the UN to keep command of its troops in Dili, despite objections from many countries. The UN is reviewing the arrangement, which Brigadier Rerden strongly defends.

General Ruak said his command's relations with Australia's commanders had collapsed. He said he had twice been held for up to 45 minutes by Australian troops at checkpoints, even though he was in uniform and carried papers authorising free movement.

Brigadier Rerden said he was aware of one occasion where General Ruak was held for 10 minutes while his identity was checked.

The UN will soon have 1600 international police, including 200 Australians, and 500 civilian personnel deployed in East Timor to help quell violence and organise elections next year.

On Thursday General Ruak issued a statement calling for an East Timorese parliamentary committee to investigate what he said had been a coup to bring down the government of Mari Alkatiri, to force the formation of a government of national unity.

He also said that a UN inquiry into the violence had failed to consider political issues.

The inquiry recommended that General Ruak be prosecuted for distributing weapons to civilians.

The Prime Minister, Jose Ramos-Horta, has stood by General Ruak, issuing statements reiterating his "full confidence in him and his leadership".


Back to October menu 
September
World Leaders Contact List
Main Postings Menu