Subject: NZ troops cleared over shooting of Indonesian soldier

New Zealand News August 7, 2001

NZ troops cleared over shooting of Indonesian soldier

A United Nations investigating team has found that New Zealand peacekeepers were justified in killing an Indonesian soldier last month.

The finding came just hours after Prime Minister Helen Clark dismissed new concerns raised by the Indonesians about the shooting as "different levels of the Indonesian system speaking at different places".

Initially, the local Indonesian commander was reported as accepting responsibility for the gunfight, but last week the Indonesian Government issued statements demanding investigations into the "unprovoked attack".

The Indonesian soldier, a 21-year-old sergeant, was shot dead on July 28 in a clash with about 30 New Zealand troops.

The soldier, out of uniform, fired at least two shots at the peacekeepers from the Indonesian side of the unmarked border before they returned fire.

The exchange occurred in scrubland about 4km southwest of the town of Tilomar, near East Timor's southern coast.

"The investigating team consisting of United Nations military observers concluded that the UN peacekeepers had acted within reasonable grounds in engaging a man who they believed had fired on them from over the border," said peacekeeping spokesman Captain Isabelito Sanchez.

Helen Clark said yesterday that the issue was not between Indonesia and New Zealand, but a matter for discussion between Indonesia and the UN.

Foreign Affairs Minister Phil Goff earlier said Indonesia had made a "formal and strong" protest to Untaet (the transitional authority in East Timor) calling for an investigation.

"Indonesia put in a formal protest to Untaet on the 30th of July, what they called a formal and strong protest, saying that initial reports ... indicate that the deceased was not in a military uniform and a victim of an unprovoked fatal shooting by the United Nations peacekeeping force," Mr Goff said.

"It goes on to say that it attaches great importance to a full-scale investigation of the fatal shooting to ensure those responsible will be held fully accountable."

The Indonesian Government's statement called for a "full-scale investigation ... to ensure those responsible for this unacceptable act [are] to be held fully accountable".

It said the dead soldier was the "victim of an unprovoked attack".

The Foreign Ministry had since spoken to Indonesia's Foreign Ministry, whose position "seems to have toned down".

"Their emphasis, as ours is, is very much on a thorough, joint investigation and that will take place with the TNI and Untaet investigating it."

New Zealand had indicated its regret but remained confident the New Zealand troops had acted in accordance with the UN's rules of engagement.

There had been no indication the incident would upset our relationship with Indonesia's new Administration, led by Megawati Sukarnoputri, Mr Goff said.

No time limit had been put on the investigation.

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