|Subject: Canberra Times: Partners in Timor
The Canberra Times March 8, 2001
Partners in Timor 'annoyed'
Australia so dominated the coalition forces in East Timor it even annoyed our closest ally, New Zealand, a new study has revealed.
Some nations also found the Australians too aggressive, while other forces took exception to Australian troops wearing dark sunglasses.
The paper on the East Timor mission highlights the success of the Australian-led mission, but points out the diversity of views and tensions within the multinational force.
Author Dr Alan Ryan, a research fellow at the Land Warfare Studies Centre in Canberra, noted a wide variety of teething problems within the coalition.
A key area of concern revolved around language problems. Rapid-fire delivery of briefings by Australian officers left many Asian officers, even those competent in English, wondering what they were supposed to do.
Others had concerns about Australia's overt dominance of the multinational force.
"Ninety per cent of the time I think you've done marvellously well and then 10 per cent of the time I've got really frustrated with the Australian-centric view," New Zealand Lieutenant-Colonel Mark Wheeler said in the paper.
". . . everyone knows that this is Australian-led and you don't need to reinforce that."
Interfet forces began landing in East Timor on September 20, 1999, in response to militia violence after the ballot in which the East Timorese people voted overwhelmingly for independence from Indonesia.
The mission was regarded as an unqualified success, with Australia taking the lead role in a multinational force which restored peace to the territory.
But even at the time there were reports of tensions among coalition members. Dr Ryan's paper noted that the Republic of Korea contingent was hampered by domestic political instability and the presence of a number of national servicemen.
That meant the force would not accept any casualties. It was posted to the eastern tip of the island where the threat was lowest. Even the South Korean soldiers adopted a fort mentality, withdrawing into their defended perimeter at night.
In contrast, there were a number of reports that Australian troops were too aggressive.
Thai soldiers were not happy with overt display of firepower, use of armoured personnel carriers and troops carrying weapons loaded and ready to fire.
Dr Ryan said the Thais and others took particular exception to Australian troops wearing dark sunglasses. "Their own cultural norms dictated that when working with people, it was important to show eye contact," he wrote.
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