Australian troops accused of violence against East Timorese

PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 19 October, 2007, 12:00am

East Timor's largest party, Fretilin, has demanded that local authorities investigate the conduct of Australian soldiers stationed in the country, some of whom have been accused of unnecessary violence against civilians.

Fretilin parliamentarian Jose Texeira said the party had filed complaints with the Human Rights and Justice Department and the police.

'All we ask is that the authorities investigate the complaints of our citizens, and that their constitutionally guaranteed civil and political rights are respected by all other citizens, visitors and authorities,' said Mr Texeira, who is a lawyer.

'That is how it works in a state where justice and the rule of law prevail.'

Mr Texeira's comments follow allegations that Abilio Fatima, a local security guard, was severely beaten by six Australian soldiers, part of the international Stabilisation Force (ISF) stationed in the country.

Fretilin MP Antoninho Bianco presented Parliament with the complaint, which was filed by Mr Fatima on Wednesday.

Mr Fatima claimed that, as he was talking with some neighbours last Sunday at about 10.30pm, 12 Australian soldiers approached in two cars, then six got out and ordered them to disperse.

The alleged beating started when Mr Fatima, via an interpreter employed by the soldiers, explained that he was on duty and asked the soldiers to go after Major Alfredo Reinado instead of ordinary civilians. Major Reinado leads a group of rebel soldiers and has been on the run since escaping from prison last August.

The complaint reportedly says that Mr Fatima was hit with rifle butts several times in the head, upper arms and back, and then bitten on the right upper arm by a soldiers' guard dog. Two of his neighbours were also assaulted and fled to their homes, but Mr Fatima stayed at his post.

Mr Texeira claimed that Mr Fatima's case is not an isolated case.

'There have been numerous complaints filed in respect to actions of the Australian soldiers, but no answers have been provided about the outcome of any investigations,' he said without elaborating.

The Australian authorities have rejected the accusations.

'I can tell you that these allegations are totally false and misleading, and that we reject them,' defence spokesman Brigadier Andrew Nikolic told local media. He said the soldiers had intervened to break up a fight between East Timorese men.

Nonetheless, the accident is starting to take political tones, with Fretilin asking for a review of the role of the international peacekeeping troops. In a statement by the party, Fretilin MP Estanislau da Silva said: 'It is time to re-evaluate the presence of the ISF, to determine how many, for what purpose and for how long they should remain in East Timor.'

Australian troops make up the bulk of the 3,000 foreign forces that landed in East Timor to restore order when the country descended into chaos in May last year. The mayhem forced then prime minister, and still current Fretilin secretary general, Mari Alkatiri to step down.

Mr Alkatiri has often said that Australia is not a fair broker, and that it favours his political adversaries, now Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, and President Jose Ramos Horta.

Following a request from Mr Horta, both the United Nations - that covers social and policing roles - and the ISF are expected to extend their missions in East Timor beyond the current deadline of early next year.