East Timor: headed towards counter-insurgency?

Australia’s military adventure in East Timor is starting to smell more like a small counterinsurgency war than a “peacekeeping” mission—if the world were paying any attention. From Catholic News, March 14:

Timor priest accuses Aussie troops
As fugitive Timorese rebel leader Major Alfredo Reinado calls for mediation by the Church, an East Timor priest has accused Australian troops of terrifying local villagers after a raid by the soldiers left a number of houses in ruins.

The Brisbane Times reports that Fr. Conceicao, who is parish of Same, protested over the 8 March raid on the hamlet of Serema.

Fr. David Alves Conceicao said villagers had been terrified by the arrival of four Black Hawk helicopters and a troop transport, apparently acting on information they were harbouring the fugitive Major Reinado, who remains on the run.

“Houses were assaulted and people ordered out in the middle of the night for searches,” the priest said by telephone. “Poor farmers, old people. This is a peaceful population, and this is a problem that will not be resolved by force. If someone who was a friend to us uses force, it will provoke a reaction.”

Both the church and local people claim that houses were destroyed during the raid, the Times says.

Images of around 10 damaged houses were shown on East Timorese national television last night, and Social Democrat deputy Riak Leman protested in parliament yesterday.

Conceicao said the military operations in Same district were continuing on a daily basis.

“It’s like living on a battlefield,” he said.

But Australian force commander Brigadier General Mal Rerden denied houses had been destroyed.

“Our operations in Same were conducted to minimise damage to the civilian population and protect it from Reinado and his group”, he told the Brisbane Times.

He said there had been some “very minor damage to a few houses” and that troops had returned to help villagers with repairs.

Meanwhile, the Age reports that Major Reinado has told local journalists that he wanted the Catholic Church to mediate a surrender.

“I’m always ready to dialogue – dialogue is better so that we can prevent any threats against the nation that could lead to civil war,” Major Reinado said.

See our last post on East Timor and Australia.