Subject: Aussie troops strayed into W Timor

Australian Broadcasting Corporation PM News Tuesday, November 23, 1999 6:27

Aussie troops strayed into W Timor

COMPERE: Despite all the sabre rattling between Indonesia and Australia over East Timor, the two countries' armies only had one armed contact and that, it now turns out, was a result of Australian troops entering West Timor. The fatal clash with Indonesian forces on October the 10th was the subject of dispute at the time about maps, and where exactly the border lay.

A joint investigation by Australia and Indonesia, submitted to the United Nations, says the Australian troops did stray onto Indonesian soil. But the report also found an over-reaction by Indonesian troops contributed to the gun battle. Both sides have already acted on one of the report's recommendations - to reach agreement on the borders separating East and West Timor.

Rebecca Barrett reports.

REBECCA BARRETT: At the time of the fire fight on the 10th of October, Interfet Commander Major General Peter Cosgrove was confident his troops were East of the border.

PETER COSGROVE: This incident occurred in East Timor along one of the Eastern edges of this elongated hamlet. There is no question that the place we're at was well inside East Timor.

REBECCA BARRETT: The Interfet Patrol may well have been inside East Timor when gunfire was exchanged last month but according to UN observers the village of Motaying (phonetic) they were directed to patrol following reports of militia activity was on the Western side of the border and, some time before the incident they mistakenly entered West Timor, alarming the Indonesian border patrol.

But in an annex to a joint investigation document prepared by Australia and Indonesia, UN observers say Interfet troops did not cross the border, as they recognised it to be, and as it was indicated on their map. Australia was relying on a 1992 map based on Indonesian data. The Indonesians, on the other hand, were using a Dutch map from 1946.

This dichotomy in maps, according to UN observers, was the main cause of the incident because, "When the Interfet forces crossed the border on the ground, the TNI troops were unduly alarmed and thought that Interfet was making an incursion into West Timor and thus over-reacted."

The reports states that the contact that followed between the two sides appears to have been initiated by Indonesian troops, an assertion Major General Cosgrove has maintained all along.

PETER COSGROVE: We didn't shoot first. The soldiers were patrolling along, as is their right - and indeed there's an expectation that they'll offer that sort of security up to the border - always approaching the border with some sensitivity as you saw in the video clip. When they got to the border it was, you know, trying to negotiate. But to be fired on when you're a good sort of 600 to 800 metres inside East Timor is just an act of villainy.

REBECCA BARRETT: The report also blames poor communications for the incident. It notes that Interfet headquarters informed TNI authorities of its patrol, but that wasn't passed on to Indonesian troops on the ground. As a result the Indonesian border control had no idea Interfet troops were operating in the area.

The clash that followed lasted around 10 minutes, and left one Indonesian police officer dead and another with serious injuries. The Foreign Affairs Minister, Alexander Downer, now hopes there won't be a repeat of the incident.

ALEXANDER DOWNER: I think in the circumstances the Australian troops behaved with restraint and it was regrettable that the incident occurred. Different maps were used and there is an argument about which map was right and which map is wrong, but I'm glad that there has been a report now produced and we hope that problems on the border won't recur because the lessons of that particular incident have been learnt.

REBECCA BARRETT: Yesterday all sides were turned to the disputed village of Motaying, with US Ambassador to the United Nations, Richard Holbrook. Interfet and the TNI agreed to work out better border arrangements. They've now decided to both rely on the 1992 maps used by the Australian troops to try to avoid any future border conflicts.

COMPERE: Rebecca Barrett reporting.

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