Subject: AU: Aussies 'slow to reach Ramos Horta'

Aussies 'slow to reach Ramos Horta'

Paul Toohey | March 29, 2008

THE Australian-led International Stabilisation Force took double the normal time to travel to the compound of Jose Ramos Horta, on the day the East Timorese President was nearly killed.

By the time they got there on February 11, Mr Ramos Horta was already in an ambulance heading for the ISF medical centre in Dili.

The ISF took almost 40 minutes to arrive at the Ramos Horta compound on the outskirts of Dili, when in light of the early morning traffic at the time of the assassination it would normally take about 12-15 minutes.

A log of mobile phone calls from a person on the scene shows repeated attempts were made to contact the ISF, asking for a helicopter to airlift the President to the medical centre and for troops to attend.

Even though the rebels were moving through the hills above the President's compound as they made their escape, there was no apparent attempt to focus on this group by the Australians.

Observers at the scene said no Australian helicopter came over the President's compound at all that morning, but was seen later sweeping the beach. "What, they think: the rebels went swimming?" asked Mr Ramos Horta's brother, Arsenio.

An Australian Defence spokesperson yesterday denied that the ISF had received any request for a helicopter to attend the scene, nor did they receive any reports that the rebels were in the hills.

"During the morning, a Black Hawk helicopter flew patrols over Dili and suburbs, being able to respond if necessary to any support requests," the spokesman said. "A Black Hawk helicopter was not requested to deploy to the President's compound due to the presence of ISF forces already there."

Kevin Rudd yesterday defended the conduct of the ISF troops after Mr Ramos Horta on Thursday criticised the Australians, saying they could have caught the rebels within hours of the attack if they had acted quickly to seal off the capital. "I defend their absolute professionalism in how that was dealt with in very trying circumstances," the Prime Minister said.

The UN said yesterday it took "very seriously" Mr Ramos Horta's allegation that UN police had formed a blockade several hundred metres from his compound, refusing to enter the shooting zone as he lay severely wounded for half an hour.

The Defence spokesman said the initial call came from the National Operations Centre in Dili without specific information about 7am. Once the situation was clarified, appropriate responses were activated by the ISF in co-ordination with the UN security forces.

A phone log from a person who assisted Mr Ramos Horta shows them making calls to the ISF at least six times up to the point when the President was collected from the scene in an old ambulance. More calls to the ISF followed as the vehicle made its way to the medical centre.

An Australian bank manager who was cycling said he was about to head up the steep road past the President's compound when he felt two shots zinging over his shoulder. The man said he turned back, came upon Mr Ramos Horta who was having his morning jog, telling him he thought it was an ISF operation.

Mr Ramos Horta said he went up the hill to see what was going on when he himself was shot.

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