Lindsay Murdoch in Darwin
September 12, 2008
RED tape delayed Australian soldiers pursuing rebels involved in the February 11 attacks on East Timor's two most senior political leaders, a confidential UN investigation has found.
The inquiry also found that troops serving in the Australian-led International Stabilisation Force (ISF) were among people "with no official function" who had compromised critical forensic evidence by walking into the crime scene where the President, Jose Ramos-Horta, was shot.
The report of a four-person investigation into the UN's response to the attacks said "no one had the time to authorise and fill out the cumbersome ISF request form" even though its soldiers were asked to pursue the rebels who had fled into the hills above Dili.
"It is difficult to ascertain whether requests made at the operational level to ISF to pursue the perpetrators and to despatch helicopters ever reached the appropriate level in the ISF chain of command," says the report, which the UN has not made public.
Despite the requests to pursue the rebels immediately, the 1000-strong ISF did not receive an official letter asking it to hunt the men until February 13, two days after the attacks, following an exchange of letters.
By then the rebels had travelled deep into East Timor's mountains, where they stayed until their surrender in April.
The report reveals that by the time a 70-person team of Australian Federal Police, most of them forensic experts, started to arrive in Dili the day after the attacks, crime scenes had been hopelessly compromised.
At Mr Ramos-Horta's house, where he was shot and seriously wounded, Timorese soldiers were "wandering about the crime scene in an agitated state".
"At one point, the soldiers actually levelled their guns at UNPOL [United Nations police] officers and told them to leave," the report says.
"Children reportedly walked up to UNPOL officers to give them shell casings.
"The scene also attracted visits from numerous people with no official function at the scene, including all ranks of Timorese, ISF and UN officials."
The report said important evidence, such as the mobile telephone of the rebels' leader, Alfredo Reinado, and SIM cards, were stolen after the renegade major was shot dead at Mr Ramos-Horta's house.
Seven months after the attacks, a Timorese investigation into what had happened is at a critical impasse.
Investigators have been waiting for Australian experts to finish an examination of Reinado's phone, which was eventually recovered by Timorese soldiers.