Army denies breaking rebels' necks
August 24, 2007
Defence today rejected claims from East Timor renegade Alfredo Reinado that Australian soldiers broke the necks of two wounded men and shot dead civilians during the raid on his hideout five months ago.
Defence spokesman Brigadier Andrew Nikolic said Australian soldiers did shoot five armed supporters of Reinado in the raid on the village of Same, 110 kilometres south of Dili, on March 4.
"Defence has conducted a post-operation investigation regarding the Same operation in accordance with its normal processes. That investigation found that Australian personnel acted in self defence when shot at by members of Reinado's group," he said.
Reinado's claims emerged in a report in the online edition of Time magazine.
In it, Reinado accused the Australian soldiers of shooting dead one of his armed supporters while he was asking for a truce, killing two unarmed civilians and breaking the necks of two wounded men.
"The way they do operation is like we are animals or enemy," he said in the article. "They come to teach us about the Geneva Convention. They are the ones that don't respect it."
Reinado, a former East Timorese army officer, led the rebellion against the Fretilin government last year which sparked widespread violence and prompted the return of Australian troops.
Brigadier Nikolic said Reinado remained a fugitive from the Timorese criminal justice system who had threatened Australian troops.
He said his allegations did not accurately reflect the events of March 4.
Brigadier Nikolic said the Australian soldiers were operating under the lawful direction of the Timor-Leste government in attempting to apprehend Reinado and his armed associates.
"In the early hours of 4 March 2007 during a confrontation with armed supporters of Alfredo Reinado, Australian soldiers acted in self defence and returned fire resulting in the deaths of five of Reinado's men," he said.
"In a second incident on 4 March 2007, Defence can confirm that a Timorese man, detained on suspicion of association with the Reinado group, escaped. Neither this man, nor any detainee, Timorese national, unidentified civilian or ADF person was injured or killed as a result of this incident.
Brigadier Nikolic said East Timorese authorities, including the Public Prosecutions Service, had reviewed the incidents and decided not to conduct further investigations.
Autopsies of the five dead men confirmed none had a broken neck.
In a separate more recent incident, a junior officer is facing possible disciplinary action over the souveniring of three Fretilin flags by Australian troops.
That came close to sparking a major diplomatic incident, prompting apologies from those involved and public expression of regret from Brigadier John Hutcheson, commander of the Australian-led International Stabilisation Force.
Brigadier Nikolic said a patrol of Australian troops took the three flags as they passed through the village of Bercoli on the way from Viqueque to Baucau on August 18.
All were recovered and returned with apologies.
"The actions of the small number of International Stabilisation Force soldiers involved in taking the flags were inappropriate and culturally insensitive," Brigadier Nikolic said.
He rejected claims that the flags had been desecrated, saying they had been returned in the condition in which they were taken.
"Australian soldiers strongly value their relationship with the people of Timor-Leste and will continue to work diligently to maintain that relationship into the future," he said.