Subject: AGE: Timor government acts as Australian troops vilified

Timor government acts as Australian troops vilified

Lindsay Murdoch, Dili October 30, 2006

THE East Timorese Government has ordered a crackdown on activists behind a campaign aimed at denigrating Australian security forces in Dili and fuelling anti-Australian sentiment.

Acting Prime Minister Estanislau da Silva has told The Age that the Government is seriously concerned about a dangerous movement that has spouted unfounded allegations that Australian troops were involved in the deaths of two young men in Dili last Friday.

"We will do our best to find out who is behind this campaign that has made people turn suddenly against the Australian force," Mr da Silva said.

Malicious rumours about Australia's 1000 soldiers in East Timor are circulating in Dili as youths in gangs are being paid to commit acts of violence, according to Catholic Church and United Nations sources in Dili.

Australia's troop commander in Dili, Mal Rerden, revealed yesterday that police know the youths involved have also been given drugs and alcohol. "This is unfortunate ­ they may do things they normally wouldn't do and that is a dangerous and serious thing," he said.

International security forces in Dili believe there is an orchestrated campaign by unidentified figures to destabilise the country ahead of elections next year.

Military sources say the campaign to denigrate the Australian soldiers appears to be aimed at forcing them to leave East Timor.

Mr da Silva said that while the Government strongly supports the role of the Australian troops, criticisms of their conduct, including that they have taken sides in the country's bloody conflict, must be examined.

But he stopped short of backing a call by East Timor's army commander, Tuar Matan Ruak, for an investigation into the conduct of Australia's troops.

"Rumours are rumours," Mr da Silva said. "If they are well based we will recommend an investigation. The Australians have been doing their best under difficult circumstances."

Amid fears that gangs will begin targeting Australians in Dili, Australia's Defence Force chief, Angus Houston, defended his troops, saying they had taken extreme care to avoid bias.

But a sign on the gates of one of Dili's biggest refugee camps warns Australian troops not to enter, claiming that they provoked violence and that they shot an innocent 55-year-old man.

Camp co-ordinator Jose da Costa Gusmao told The Age that their fight is not with Australians in general but with Australian soldiers who, he claimed, had repeatedly entered the camp and used violence to arrest people.

"They come here acting like terrorists," he said.

He said the wounded man, Leovegildo Carvalho, was shot when the office he was in was peppered with bullets after an Australian soldier fired on a man holding a gun during a confrontation last week.

Brigadier Rerden said late yesterday he knew nothing about Mr Carvalho, who was being treated in a Dili hospital. "If there is any information about an individual who says he has been wounded in that situation he should hand himself in to the police," he said.

Up to 10 people have been killed in the past week, and more than 1600 houses have been destroyed since violence erupted in late April.

"This is a political crisis … everyone wants to take advantage of the situation," Mr da Silva said. "Progressively we will find out who is behind the violence."

Mr da Silva, a member of Fretilin's national political commission, said he did not believe the country was facing civil war "because we are all Timorese".

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