Subject: AAP: Aussie Troops Encounter Indo Troops They Trained

AAP

November 11, 1999, Thursday

Troops encounter familiar faces in East Timor

By Max Blenkin, Defence Correspondent

CANBERRA, Nov 11 AAP - When Australian troops arrived at Dili's Comoro airport on the first morning of the INTERFET mission, they encountered some familiar faces.

They were Indonesian troops who had visited Australia for training exercises at a time when Australia-Indonesia relations were more cordial

As the initial INTERFET deployment to East Timor early on September 20 was conducted by special forces, including members of the Australian Special Air Service, it suggests that the Indonesians may have been members of their counterpart's special forces, known as Kopassus.

SAS and Kopassus forces have conducted a variety of cooperative training activities over a number of years.

But such activities have been suspended because of persistent allegations of Kopassus troops in human rights abuses.

The meeting of familiar faces at Dili airport was confirmed today by Michael Scrafton, head of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) East Timor police unit, in evidence to a senate committee.

"When INTERFET went into Dili, some of the INTERFET deploying forces recognised people standing around the airport who they had trained with in Australia," he said.

But Mr Scrafton declined to comment on reports that Kopassus personnel had been caught operating within East Timor dressed as militiamen.

He said he would prefer to discuss that matter with committee members at an in-camera hearing.

The senate foreign affairs, defence and trade committee is examining Australian relations with East Timor.

Despite involvement of elements of the Indonesian military in the post-ballot carnage and destruction in East Timor, Mr Scrafton and director general of ADF joint operations Air Commodore Kerry Clarke said good relations developed over a number of years between the ADF and Indonesian military, known as TNI, were crucial to the success of the East Timor mission.

Mr Clarke said at no stage did Australia have to fight against TNI.

"In fact without the cooperation and baseline relationship that we had established, the introduction of military observers and the evacuation of Australian, UN and internationally displaced persons could not have occurred," he said.

"TNI were very cooperative in that activity. That was perhaps at odds with some of the public perceptions.

"The personal relationships on the ground in Dili were absolutely pivotal to the success of that activity and to the success of the initial footprint of INTERFET on to the ground.

"That basis of relationship which has formed over the years stood us in good stead."


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