Subject: Cosgrove sees Falintil as a legal police force

Sydney Morning Herald December 2, 1999

Cosgrove sees Falintil as a legal police force

Major-General Peter Cosgrove, the Australian commander of the international force in East Timor (Interfet), said yesterday that he considered it unlikely pro-independence Falintil guerillas would disarm as required by UN law.

However, General Cosgrove described the issue of disarmament as ''semantics'' and predicted support for a proposal that would see the transformation of the guerilla force into a legally constituted police force and French-style Gendarmerie.

In France, the Gendarmes are a lightly armed force administered by the defence ministry and have similar powers to the Australian Federal Police.

General Cosgrove described the evolution of Falintil as a ''profoundly political issue'' but he said his proposals for Falintil were supported by the East Timorese leader, Mr Xanana Gusmao, who heads the main pro-independence political party, the CNRT (National Council for Timorese Resistance).

At the time of the UN-organised referendum on August 30, Western intelligence analysts estimated Falintil strength at 1,000 armed fighters.

General Cosgrove told the Herald that he sought an ''honourable, productive and relevant future for Falintil fighters who have spent so much time in the cause and we acknowledge that''.

''It is semantics. There is no laying down of arms. It is a sensitive issue. He [Mr Gusmao] has expressed himself content with my proposals,'' he said.

Several recent incidents have caused relations between Interfet troops and Falintil to sour, but General Cosgrove described his relationship with Mr Gusmao as ''pretty good''.

General Cosgrove expressed his sorrow at the death of Warrant Officer Tony Michael Walser, 37, of the 1st Battalion Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment, who died when the truck he was driving rolled over near south-west Suai.

Army investigators said the road on which he was driving collapsed. Warrant Officer Walser is the first fatality on the Interfet mission. His body was flown to Darwin yesterday.

Mark Dodd

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