Subject: Timor murder probe includes NZ troops

The New Zealand Herald October 4, 2002

Timor murder probe includes NZ troops


Investigators are checking bodies and have spoken to hundreds of people - including a dozen New Zealanders - amid claims of an execution by peacekeepers in East Timor.

The Australian Defence Force said yesterday that it had been investigating "serious allegations" for the past two years, had spoken to 222 people, and was studying exhumed bodies.

The statements came after reports that Australian SAS troops shot at least one prisoner in the head with a pistol and tortured others after a gunbattle near Suai on October 6, 1999.

The battle left two militiamen dead and 115 captured. Two Australians were injured in the clash between a United Nations peace enforcement contingent and pro-Indonesian militia.

News Ltd newspapers reported yesterday that the two militiamen had been exhumed for testing by scientists.

Investigators have spoken to people in New Zealand, Australia, East Timor and Britain.

Australian defence spokeswoman Claire Bannon told the Herald last night that "about a dozen" New Zealanders had been interviewed. There were no allegations against them or any other New Zealanders. They were interviewed only because they were "in East Timor at the time".

New Zealand defence spokesman Warren Inkster said investigators flew to New Zealand.

"We have co-operated with the Australians and made people available to them."

A spokesman for the Australian Department of Defence, Colonel Terry McCullagh, said the allegations were being taken "very seriously".

"I am determined that no stone will be left unturned to ensure that a thorough investigation is conducted. If there is a case to answer by any soldier, they will face the military justice system and will be given a fair and just hearing."

The United Nations has been routinely exhuming bodies of people killed in East Timor while international forces were stationed there. The Australians took the opportunity to have the bodies tested.

Papers obtained by the Herald under the Official Information Act showed that New Zealand forces took part in a gunfight on the same day as the Australian incident, also near Suai, and two militiamen were also killed.

But a New Zealand defence spokesman later said the gunfight was between Australian and militia forces only.

New Zealanders stationed nearby arrived to treat the wounded, he said. One, a medic, was commended.

The Australian-led UN force, Interfet, was sent to East Timor on September 20, 1999, after a vote by the East Timorese for independence from Indonesia sparked a bloody rampage by pro-Jakarta militia.

The territory was administered by the United Nations until its independence on May 20 this year.

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