Subject: AU: Army censors news as tensions rise

The Australian

Army censors news as tensions rise

Paul Toohey | February 21, 2008

TIME reporter Rory Callinan has complained of heavy-handed treatment at the hands of Australian soldiers in East Timor after he and photographer John Wilson were detained for three hours at gunpoint outside of Dili.

Callinan says he and Wilson had driven up a steep, winding road aiming last week to get to the small village of Dare, just above Dili.

The Australian-led International Security Force was there conducting a mass search for major Alfredo Reinado's renegades after deadly attacks on President Jose Ramos-Horta and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao last Monday.

At an ISF-manned roadblock below Dare, Callinan was told that there was no access beyond that point and it was a "media-free area".

The Australian had encountered the same response when it tried to get through and, when ISF public affairs was asked why they were letting truckloads of locals pass through the blockade, was told: "A decision has been made to allow locals through to conduct their normal business. Journalists only want to go through for one reason."

Callinan and Wilson drove back down from the roadblock and with two Timorese interpreters walked for an hour up a jungle trail to try to access Dare by foot. Just outside the village, said Callinan, "two Australians jumped out of the bushes wearing 'camo' paint, pointing their guns, ordering us to get down.

"We were told to hand over our mobile phones, all our camera equipment and passports and told to sit without talking. The guy said: 'We're detaining you for your own safety and I can't tell you more.'

"I said, 'So we can't move?' He said, 'I'm telling you, I am detaining you. I can physically detain you if I want, but I choose not to at this point.'

"We were wondering why they were letting dozens of East Timorese wander about with no apparent concern for their safety."

Callinan said they were held for three hours in a jungle setting, with Wilson at one point being ordered to lie on the ground.

After dark they were told they were to be released and could enter Dare. Callinan said they did some interviews with locals and walked out on the road back to Dili, where they were detained again, this time for breaching the nationwide 8pm curfew.

"They confiscated our gear again. We said, 'But you've already detained us for three hours, which is why we are in breach of the curfew'."

Callinan said they got a lecture from public affairs officer Major Phil Pyke and were eventually dropped off at their hotel.

"The East Timorese with us were saying this was the sort of thing that happened under Indonesian times."

An ISF spokesman told The Australian that Callinan could call the Department of Defence in Canberra, where they would go over the rationale for the detention with him.

Lindsay Moller, a photographer with The Australian, also encountered the wrath of two Portuguese guards when he photographed them driving Angelita Pires out of the police compound in Dili.

Ms Pires was at the time under investigation for allegedly conspiring with Reinado to kill Ramos-Horta. The Portuguese officers ordered Moller to delete his photos.

Later that day, when Pires was brought into court by the same two guards, Moller was the only photographer at the scene. Standing outside the court building, he began shooting photographs of Ms Pires as she stepped out of the vehicle, though the guards quickly shielded her face.

One of the guards grabbed Moller by the shoulders, pushing him backwards, screaming in his face and grabbing at his cameras.

Moller declined to delete his photos and was ordered to be seated in the courthouse while the guard took his details. A more senior officer soon ordered the guard to release Moller, having no lawful grounds to detain him.

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