A Timor priest has accused Australian troops of destroying property in a raid on a church during a search for fugitive rebel leader Alfredo Reinado.
Fr Heremenio Gonsalves told reporters that in the early hours of 23 March, fully armed Australian soldiers kicked the backdoor and forcedly entered his church.
"They thought we had hidden the rebel leader there," Fr Gonsalves said.
The priest was not sure of the number of Australian soldiers who raided the church. "I just heard their shouts saying that Alfredo is inside the church, to hunt for him inside the church," he recalled.
Alfredo Alves Reinado, who led a revolt that plunged Timor Leste into chaos last April, has evaded capture by the Australian-led international peacekeeping force in Timor Leste. He has been a fugitive since he escaped from a Dili jail in August along with 50 other inmates.
Fr Gonsalves suspects the Australian soldiers thought Reinado was hiding in the church because many journalists covering the presidential election campaign stopped there the previous day on their way to Suai. The election is scheduled for 9 April.
"The Australian soldiers might have thought the journalists came to interview Reinado," Fr Gonsalves said, questioning how the Australian soldiers could even think the Catholic Church would harbour a fugitive in a place of worship.
"It is not proper," he said of the Australian soldiers' action, urging them to respect and not destroy places of worship in performing their duty.
The priest said he would ask President Xanana Gusmao and Prime Minister Jose Ramos-Horta to look into the incident.
He said he would also ask Bishops Alberto Ricardo da Silva of Dili and Basilio do Nascimento of Baucau, whose dioceses cover the country, to tell the Australian soldiers not to storm into his church again.
Fr Gonsalves said Indonesian troops during the occupation were not "rude like the bule (white) soldiers, who entered the church kicking and destroying the house of worship."