Subject: Kiwis sent `unprepared', East Timor force lacks riot gear

The Nelson Mail (New Zealand)

September 1, 2006 Friday

Kiwis sent `unprepared', East Timor force lacks riot gear

New Zealand police went to East Timor unprepared for some of the tasks they would have to handle, including riot control, and have had to order in new protective equipment.

Superintendent Grant O'Fee, the top Kiwi cop in the violence-ravaged country serving as Assistant Commissioner, told The Press yesterday officers were sometimes facing hundreds of stone-throwing youths without the proper gear.

The revelation came as the Government said Kiwi soldiers were not responsible for security at a jail hit by a mass breakout just as New Zealand troops had begun to withdraw.

Defence Minister Phil Goff said New Zealand could consider sending troops back if the security situation deteriorated significantly.

Mr O'Fee, who is normally Tasman District Commander and is currently in Wellington, said the Kiwi cops had done well under the circumstances, sustaining only minor injuries.

``The situation isn't obviously as we would like it. We have gone over there with 25 general duties police officers, who are community police officers,'' he said.

``Through circumstances we found ourselves in a position where we were doing quite a large percentage of our time as riot control.

But Mr O'Fee said the situation was ``manageable''. The crowds tended to be hundreds or dozens of stone-throwing youths, rather than thousands.

``I don't want to minimise it, they are big rocks and they throw them very hard. So there are some safety concerns we are addressing.''

Mr Goff said New Zealand police and military had joined the hunt for the escapees from Dili's main jail in Becora district, the sector of the capital where Kiwis are responsible for security.

The breakout by 57 men was led by Alfredo Reinado, a key officer in the rebellion that plunged the tiny nation into chaos earlier this year.

Ironically, the Kiwis had been anticipating break-ins by Timorese seeking to settle old scores, rather than a breakout, Mr Goff said.

``What we weren't responsible for was running the prisons or maintaining security within them. That of course was the responsibility of East Timor's Ministry of Justice,'' Mr Goff said.

A quarter of the Kiwi contingent of nearly 200 soldiers sent to East Timor returned to Christchurch on Wednesday with the Government saying the situation on the ground there had improved.

Mr Goff said Kiwi soldiers were well prepared and equipped to defend themselves.

But Mr O'Fee said police needed new helmets with face protection, in the form of visors, which had been ordered from New Zealand but were yet to arrive.

They already had riot shields and had changed the way they operated.


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