Subject: AAP: Rumours of SASR killing around for some time

Also: 
Defence says it demands highest standards of behaviour

Dead militia to be examined for evidence of execution

AAP NEWSFEED

October 3, 2002, Thursday

Fed: Rumours of SASR killing around for some time

By Max Blenkin, Defence Correspondent

CANBERRA, Oct 3

Rumours a captured pro-Indonesian militiaman was summarily executed by Australian troops in East Timor had floated around special forces circles for some time, a defence commentator said today.

John Farrell, author of the recently published book on the Special Air Service - Specwarops - said there were many claims about purported excesses of the SASR and they needed to be treated with suspicion.

"Rumours about the fate of a militiaman have run riot over the past three years," he told AAP.

"I have heard scuttlebutt relating to an extra-judicial execution. I have also heard rumours that no execution took place and the militiaman was simply given the boot."

The incident, now being investigated by the army, allegedly occurred on October 6, 1999 as Australian troops, supported by the SASR, occupied the town of Suai in the western border region.

They captured a large group of militia.

SASR troops were returning from escorting the convoy of captured militia when they were ambushed by other militia, believed to be from the Laksaur group.

In a sharp firefight two SASR were wounded with two militia shot dead and nine captured.

The rumours about summary executions relate to a senior SASR soldier, angered at the injuries inflicted on his soldiers, either beating or using his pistol to shoot dead one or more of the captives back in Suai.

Mr Farrell said there many rumours flew about the SASR and he tended to take them all with a grain of salt.

He said Australians should be aware that the SASR was not the Red Cross.

"They are super-conditioned special action forces. They are the last resort and the final solution. Expecting them to do anything other than lean on the bad guys with extreme efficiency is simply naive," he said.

But he said there was no justification for executing prisoners.

"It is bad for a soldier's soul but it is also very bad for the overall war effort," he said.

"You want your enemy to think when they surrender to a western force that they are heading to a reasonable camp. You don't want them to think they are going to be shot dead, or they don't surrender.

"It's not a good look, especially when there is no vital information to be got out of the others who are watching. It is just beyond excuse."


October 3, 2002, Thursday

Fed: Defence says it demands highest standards of behaviour

CANBERRA, Oct 3

The Australian Defence Force (ADF) said today it demanded the highest standard of behaviour and any allegations of misconduct would be relentlessly investigated.

Defence spokesman Brigadier Mike Hannan said there had been a number of allegations about misconduct of soldiers in East Timor and they were currently subject to an investigation.

The investigation began in 2000 was being conducted by Australian Military Police assisted by Australian Federal Police and United Nations investigators.

"The ADF expects, the ADF demands that the men and women of the ADF uphold the highest standards of behaviour and conduct both on operations and in peace," he told reporters.

"There have been a number of allegations made which are currently the subject of vigorous investigation.

"Those investigations will be pursued relentlessly until all allegations have been dealt with and that process will take place in an open and transparent manner."

The inquiry covers a number of allegations that Australian Special Air Service Regiment troops mistreated prisoners including claims that one may have been summarily executed.

Brigadier Hannan said the inquiry would take as long as necessary and there were literally hundreds of people to be interviewed from a number of countries.

The investigation had so far dealt with a dozen of about 18 allegations and none so far had found any evidence which warranted further action.


AAP NEWSFEED

October 3, 2002, Thursday

Dead militia to be examined for evidence of execution

By Max Blenkin, Defence Correspondent

CANBERRA, Oct 3

The bodies of two pro-Indonesia militiamen exhumed from a Dili mass grave will be examined to determine whether they may have been summarily executed by Australian troops.

Australian Army investigating officer Colonel Terry McCullagh confirmed that the two bodies were exhumed in suburban Dili on August 27.

Two years ago, the army, the Australian Federal Police and United Nations investigators began a comprehensive examination of allegations of misconduct by Australian troops, Colonel McCullagh said.

Australia had not requested the exhumations.

"The UN had brought to our attention a number of months ago that as a routine matter, they were exhuming all bodies of those killed during the INTERFET period," he told ABC radio.

"We took the opportunity to have a forensic examination conducted and that is yet to be done."

Defence spokesman Brigadier Mike Hannan said the inquiry would take as long as necessary.

Hundreds of people from a number of countries had to be interviewed, he said.

Twelve of 18 allegations had been dealt with and none had produced evidence warranting further action.

The investigation is looking into allegations that troops, particularly Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) soldiers, mistreated captives.

The specific incident allegedly occurred on October 6, 1999, as Australian troops occupied the western border town of Suai, capturing a large group of militia.

SASR troops returning from escorting the convoy of captured militia were ambushed by other militia.

In a sharp firefight, two SASR were wounded, two militia shot dead and nine captured.

Rumours of summary executions relate to a senior SAS soldier either beating or using his pistol to shoot dead one or more of the captives in Suai.

Brisbane defence commentator John Farrell, author of a recent book on the SASR, said claims about purported excesses of the SASR should be treated with scepticism.

"Rumours about the fate of a militiaman have run riot over the past three years," he told AAP.

"I have heard scuttlebutt relating to an extra-judicial execution. I have also heard rumours that no execution took place and the militiaman was simply given the boot."

Defence Minister Robert Hill stood up for the SASR, saying they were entitled to a presumption of innocence.

He denied the allegations tarnished the regiment's reputation.

"Look at the work they've done in Afghanistan," he told reporters in Perth.

"They've excelled in their work and their professionalism and that's not only the view of us but it's the view of all our coalition partners in the war against terror."

Opposition defence spokesman Chris Evans called for a ministerial statement to parliament.

The SASR had an unparalleled reputation and they deserved to have their names cleared if the allegations were without substance, he said.

"If there is any evidence of improper behaviour the people concerned should face justice in Australia," Senator Evans said.

"It is totally unacceptable that we only hear about these allegations through the media two years after an investigation has begun."


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