FRETILIN questions Australian military presence after civilian bashing complaint

October 17, 2007

Reports that a Timorese security guard was severely beaten by six Australian soldiers opened up a parliamentary debate yesterday about the legal status, role, command structure and duration of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) presence in Timor Leste.

FRETILIN MP Antoninho Bianco presented parliament with a complaint by Mr Abilio Fatima, 41, who is employed by Maubere Security to protect the warehouse of the Ministry of Social Security in the Dili suburb of Kintal Bot.

In a complaint to the police, Mr Fatima alleged that at 10.30pm last Sunday, October 14, he was on duty, talking to some neighbours, when two ADF vehicles arrived, with about 12 soldiers, six of whom alighted and ordered Mr Fatima and the neighbours to disperse and go indoors.

Mr Fatima explained through a Tetum language interpreter attached to the soldiers that he was on duty, that regular police patrols never ordered him to leave his post, and asked why the soldiers were so concerned with ordinary civilians like him instead of with cases like Alfredo Reinado, the rebel soldier, and his armed group.

Mr Fatima alleged that after he mentioned Reinado he was immediately struck with rifle butts many times in the head, upper arms and back, and then bitten on the right upper arm by a soldiers’ guard dog. Two of his neighbours were also assaulted and fled to their homes, but Mr Fatima stayed at his post.

Next morning, Mr Fatima made a complaint to Fretilin MPs at Parliament House, and then went to the National Hospital for treatment, before going to the Dili Police Headquarters to register his complaint.

Many MPs including from the non-FRETILIN side of parliament supported a call for a full and thorough investigation into this incident as one of a string of incidents of ADF maltreatment of civilians.

The President of the Parliament, Fernando Lasama Araujo MP (Democratic Party), directed that the matter be referred to parliamentary Committee A (Constitution, Rights and Justice) so that the Secretaries of State for Defence and Security respectively could be requested to come to the parliament and respond to these issues raised regarding the ADF conduct.

FRETILIN MP Estanislau da Silva said the time had come to re-evaluate the presence of the ADF, to determine how many, for what purpose and for how long they should remain in Timor-Leste. He stressed that there was a sentiment of hostility building up because of some of the actions of the ADF and that the parliament should be careful that this sentiment did not become overwhelming and manifest itself in negative ways. “We have to act to prevent this from occurring, as we have had a history of this occurring with occupying armies in the past,” said Mr Da Silva.

These views were supported by CNRT MP Cecilio Caminha who called for transparency in dealing with cases of abuse of power by the ADF. FRETILIN MP Jose Teixeira called for the Australian military force to come under the UN command, to make it more accountable.

FRETILIN MP Francisco Branco argued that even if the presence of the ADF in Timor-Leste was ultimately ratified by the National Parliament, the officers who ordered operations, such as when ADF troops shot dead Timorese at the Dili Airport IDP Camp or in the attack on the Alfredo group in Same, should be investigated for the legality of their actions.

For further comment: Jose Teixeira MP +670 728 7080

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