Subject: AAP: Defence denies bashing of East Timor men

Defence denies bashing of East Timor men

October 23, 2007 - 1:44PM


Claims that Australian soldiers in East Timor used rifle butts to repeatedly bash three Timorese civilians have been rejected by Defence.

The soldiers dispersed a drunken brawl without laying a hand on those involved, Defence said.

The allegations were released overnight by the political party Fretilin and highlight the ongoing ill-feeling East Timor's former political masters direct towards the Australian-led International Stabilisation Force (ISF).

The incident occurred on the night of Sunday, October 14 with claims of abuse first surfacing two days later.

Australian commander Brigadier John Hutcheson subsequently responded through the East Timor media.

But that did not settle the issue, with Fretilin now claiming Australian soldiers reacted aggressively because that area was considered a Fretilin stronghold and the shop where the incident occurred was flying a large Fretilin flag.

Fretilin said security guard Abilio Fatima was on duty outside a food warehouse when six soldiers approached, directing him and his neighbours to go home.

"Mr Fatima explained through a Tetum language interpreter attached to the soldiers that he was on duty, that regular police patrols never ordered him to leave his post, and asked why the soldiers were so concerned with ordinary civilians like him instead of with cases like Alfredo Reinado, the rebel soldier, and his armed group," it said in a media statement.

"Mr Fatima alleged that after he mentioned Reinado he was immediately struck with rifle butts many times in the head, upper arms and back, and then bitten on the right upper arm by a soldier's guard dog. Two of his neighbours were also assaulted and fled to their homes."

The Australian Defence Force said nothing like this occurred.

Rather, a routine patrol came across two youths fighting with a third watching, all obviously intoxicated.

Told to go home, one of the fighting men abused the soldiers. He was restrained by one of the other men.

"After about seven minutes, the intoxicated men left. At no time did the ISF soldier point their weapons at the men," Defence said in a statement.

"At no time did the ISF soldiers touch the men. At no time did an ISF working dog bite any of the men. The ISF working dog was at all times restrained on its lead."

Defence said the Fretilin allegations were totally false and misleading and the ISF rejected them completely.

"The ISF has said many times before, if anyone has a concern about ISF operations, please tell them to the ISF and the ISF will immediately investigate," it said.

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