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Australian files reveal deadly clashes during UN Timor operation
Updated: 2005-11-14 08:55

Australian soldiers shot and killed at least 14 pro-Jakarta militia and exchanged fire with Indonesian forces during UN peacekeeping operations in East Timor in 1999 and 2000, according to government documents.

The defense ministry reports obtained by The Australian newspaper under Freedom of Information laws were the first confirmation of the extent of casualties during Australia's deployment in East Timor, which began a month after the territory voted for independence from Indonesia in August 1999.

According to the documents as reported in The Australian, Australian soldiers were involved in 33 "engagements" with pro-Indonesian militia armed with automatic weapons and grenades.

The first incident occured barely two weeks after the 7,000-strong UN force (Interfet) deployed in East Timor, when several trucks carrying militia crashed through a UN roadblock near the West Timor border.

"Shots fired by Interfet, six militia casualties, 116 militia detained," the official report read, adding that the UN soldiers involved were members of Australia's elite Special Air Service (SAS) regiment.

An Interfet truck escorting militia detained in the first incident was then ambushed and in the ensuing firefight, two UN troops were wounded and two militia killed, it said.

In all, the report says at least 14 militia were killed in clashes with the UN soldiers within weeks of the peacekeepers' deployment.

"The high death toll among the pro-Jakarta forces early in the cross-border probes against the superior firepower and quality of Australian soldiers also appears to have dramatically reduced the militia's appetite for battle within weeks of the deployment," The Australian said.

The newspaper said analysis of the 33 engagements revealed in the documents showed that UN forces never initiated firefights with militia, instead only reacting to fire or incursions across the border.

The documents also confirmed that Australian troops clashed with Indonesian soldiers and police in October 1999, when the Indonesians fired on an Australian platoon over an incident caused by Australian confusion about the border demarcation between East and West Timor, it said.

One Indonesian policeman died in the incident.

No Australian soldiers died fighting in East Timor, although several were wounded during their 15-month deployment.

Australia contributed 5,000 of the 7,000 soldiers in Interfet, which was tasked with preventing violence by pro-Indonesian forces in the run-up to East Timor's independence in 2002.

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