|Subject: ABC: East Timor Army strike sparks
The World Today - East Timor Army strike sparks security fears
[This is the print version of story at http://www.abc.net.au/worldtoday/]
The World Today - Monday, 27 February , 2006 12:42:00 Reporter: Karen Percy
ELEANOR HALL: The Federal Labor Party says it fears there's a security risk right on our doorstep, with reports that hundreds of soldiers from the East Timorese army have left their posts.
In recent weeks the soldiers have been protesting against working conditions and promotion rules within the newly formed army.
But the Defence Minister Brendan Nelson says there's no risk to Australians in East Timor, and no threat to Australia either, as Karen Percy reports.
KAREN PERCY: Over the past several weeks, tensions have been rising with the 1,500 strong East Timor Army - so much so that 400 soldiers have left the main base of Metinaro, west of Dili.
The Federal Defence Minister Brendan Nelson.
BRENDAN NELSON: It's a kind of a strike, as we understand it, that relates to grievances about conditions of service and the nature of promotion selections, and a little bit of tension, as we understand it, between those who come from the west and then of course the east of the country.
The security situation, I understand, is peaceful and stable, and the East Timorese Government has set up a commission of inquiry.
KAREN PERCY: The Federal Opposition says with such a large percentage of the army off the job, there's a risk that law and order will break down.
Labor's Defence Spokesman, Robert McClelland.
ROBERT MCCLELLAND: Increasingly the issue of failing states, and we've all got to work to make sure that doesn't happen in Timor Leste, is a very, very significant security issue, both from the point of view of any narcotics trades that can develop in countries where there's poor security, or at worst case scenario, potential terrorist bases.
KAREN PERCY: Labor says this is particularly embarrassing for Australia, because many of the soldiers who were former freedom fighters were trained by the Australian Defence Force.
Robert McClelland says the ADF needs to do more to ensure that the proper processes are in place for the smooth running of the military.
ROBERT MCCLELLAND: That's clearly an imperative, just in terms of the management structures, the payment structures, and indeed the general systems, the appeal review structures within the military.
I mean, we've seen military justice here being a controversial issue, but we're not a developing country. Obviously it's far more profound in its impact if the system's not right in the developing country.
KAREN PERCY: But the Government says it will only intervene if it's asked.
Defence Minister Brendan Nelson.
BRENDAN NELSON: At the moment I'm advised that things are peaceful. The discontent amongst some elements of the East Timorese soldiery has been expressed in a peaceful and lawful manner, and the East Timorese Government has established its commission of inquiry to investigate the grievances that the soldiers may have, and as far as we're concerned, we will only provide any assistance if we are asked to do so.
KAREN PERCY: Is it embarrassing though, for the ADF program that some of their trainees, as such, have gone off in this way?
BRENDAN NELSON: Well, I certainly wouldn't describe the East Timorese Army as, if you like, trainees of the Australian Defence Force. I think the East Timorese Government itself would be quite rightly offended by that.
We need to understand that many of those who have joined the East Timorese Army fought over a long period of time to secure the independence of their country. There are cultural differences, between one side of East Timor from that of the other, and not surprisingly, some of those issues permeate to the development of its new army.
And we would expect, with sensible management of these issues, that in the medium to long term they'll be successfully managed.
KAREN PERCY: A spokesman for the Department of Defence says the nine ADF personnel based at Metinaro were temporarily moved from the site, but have since returned to the base.
ELEANOR HALL: Karen Percy reporting.