Subject: Age/East Timor: Uneasy quiet on border

The Age March 9 2002

Uneasy quiet on border

Jill Jolliffe

From the other side of the cyclone wire fence, a man with a large scorpion tattooed on his face peers into East Timor.

He comes here regularly, sometimes chatting with Indonesian army officers. His name is Olivio Mau, one of the most wanted militia leaders still in West Timor, and he is one of the reasons the people of Suai, 20 kilometres to the east, are scared.

The New Zealanders from NZBatt5 who guard this remote border post are powerless to act so long as he stays on the Indonesian side. Besides, these days their message is one of peaceful persuasion, and they must suppress their frustration.

Under their 200-centimetre commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Antony "Lofty" Hayward, a main thrust of their soldiering is to help East Timorese refugees who cross the border from Indonesia.

There are still an estimated 60,000 of them in West Timorese camps. Some trickle through each week. The soldiers liaise with Indonesian commanders and work with United Nations authorities to resettle returnees peacefully in their own communities.

The New Zealanders are also working to reassure locals that they will be secure when the battalion leaves in November and Timorese soldiers take over.

They have an imaginative program of community work to strengthen leadership qualities in village heads, build self-reliance and prepare people for life in a democracy after independence on May 20.

"We're part of the healing process, and we want to create understanding of how to function as a community," Lieutenant-Colonel Hayward asserts, "We're also a small country, and our soldiers are the best ambassadors - it's part of the Kiwi touch."

Mr Mau faces a series of accusations, including participating in the Suai church massacre of about 200 unarmed civilians in September, 1999.

Recently East Timorese refugees attacked him with a machete - a desperate reaction to the intimidation they still suffer in the West Timor camps.

The problem for the Cova Lima district, which the New Zealanders secure, is that it is cheek-by-jowl with the Indonesian border and people are acutely conscious of their vulnerability.

It is symptomatic that police prosecutors working on the Suai massacre have found it almost impossible to recruit local interpreters. Militia culprits are just too close for comfort.

The NZ battalion secured the border with its Australian counterparts in September, 1999, after an advance action by SAS forces of both nations.

The Australians guard the northern sector and the Kiwis control security in the south, which takes in some of East Timor's most inaccessible densely forested mountain country.

During these early hard-edge operations they paid dearly for their commitment. Three died in accidents. The fourth, Private Leonard Manning, was shot by militia infiltrators in July, 2000, and his body mutilated.

"People forget that the New Zealand army has only two infantry battalions, and one of them is here," Jonathan Austin, head of New Zealand's Dili mission notes.

He stresses that New Zealand has no strategic or economic designs on East Timor. "It is purely a humanitarian mission. We're a small, poor country as East Timor is, we're neutral, and we can help in small ways."


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