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AUS: ADF Daily Briefing 23/9/99

Update Thursday 23nd September, 1999


We are greatly saddened this afternoon following confirmation yesterday of Mr. Thoenes death in Dili.

Next, I'd like to set the record straight on the question of Reserves, and to clarify some of the media reporting of the last 24 hours.

Contrary to some reports, I did not say there was a special new Reserve recruiting campaign underway because of our commitment in East Timor.

There is no doubt whatsoever, about the ADF ability to meet its obligation to INTERFET, but it is recognised that this will place a heavy demand on us, especially if there is a need to sustain the Australian commitment at the high end of the scale for a protracted period.

The Government has acknowledged that fact, and also the need for a build up of forces for a long term commitment, including preparations for the raising of another brigade based on the 7th Task Force.

Naturally that would require additional recruitment, and the Department of Defence is developing options to be considered by the Government in the next few days. Those options would look at a range of issues including consideration of the period of rotation for Australian personnel in East Timor.

This process of increasing the readiness of the ADF has been in train for some time, and you will recall that the Minister for Defence directed last year that a second brigade be brought to a state of increased readiness by the middle of this year. As a consequence of that, the Darwin-based 1st Brigade's readiness was brought to 28 days notice to move.

There is always a need for specialist skills, and we will continue to call for volunteer Reserve personnel in those areas, as we have done in past operations such as those in Rwanda and currently in Bougainville. This is not an unusual situation.

The whole concept of Reserve Forces is to allow ADF extra capacity to meet contingencies that arise, without the need to maintain a larger force than is needed during the long periods of stability that we have been fortunate enough to enjoy in recent decades.

To recap - there is no special or urgent recruiting campaign underway, Reserve soldiers, sailors and airmen and women may well contribute on a voluntary basis as they are now in Bougainville, but let me emphasise, the current commitment is well within our present capacity. As Minister Moore said in parliament this afternoon, plans are already underway to ensure Australia could meet a commitment to have thousands of Australian troops in East Timor for more than a year. The Minister has promised troops that they would spend no longer than nine months before being replaced.

 

Turning now to recent events and operations -

Firing was reported in the area of the harbour at about 2pm Canberra time. After a short quick reply, no INTERFET troops fired. There has been one arrest and the investigation is continuing.
At 1pm one shooting incident resulted in several militia being arrested. Lots of firing in the air was reported. There have been no casualties.

Air-bridge operations in the last 24 hours centred on the build up of logistic support for INTERFET with more equipment and stores being flown into Dili Airport.

An Australian infantry company secured Baucau airfield following an airmobile operation yesterday.

Three airdrops of humanitarian aid supplies were conducted yesterday - two RAAF C130s conducted drops at Luro and Biguia, and a French C130 dropped relief supplies at Uamori. Three more are planned for today.

The build up of international forces is continuing. Singaporean and French military planners arrived in Dili yesterday and a Philippine contingent of around 130 is due to deploy to Dili tonight. That contingent will comprise engineers, medical, dental and local security personnel.

HMAS Tobruk (Landing Ship Heavy) is enroute from Dili to Darwin to pick up more equipment, expected arrival back in Dili AM 26 Sep 99. HMAS Jervis Bay (Jet Cat) is in Darwin and due to arrive back in Dili AM 24 Sep 99 with more troops and equipment. One commercial ship under charter (Lady Valissia) is presently unloading in Dili, and another (Lady Elaine) is due in Dili PM 23 Sep 99.

51 Brazilian military police and 53 Italian paratroopers are in Townsville preparing for deployment to East Timor.

Total numbers of INTERFET personnel deployed to East Timor as at this morning were around 3 000 - with about 2 500 being Australian, and the remainder from other contributing nations.

Other countries that now have forces or liaison teams deployed either in Australia or East Timor, include Canada, France, Italy, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, the United States, Brazil and the UK.

A suspected militia location, the Tropicana Hotel in Dili, was investigated by INTERFET forces on 22 Sep 99. A cache of approximately 40 weapons (mostly handmade) was discovered and five personnel were detained for questioning.

An interim INTERFET detention facility has been established at Dili airport (Komoro).

The driver of the vehicle involved in an incident with suspected militia members on the night of 21 September is being evacuated to Darwin today. He was badly beaten during the incident and has severe head and eye injuries.

DFAT and Defence are considering a COMINTERFET request for approval to evacuate to Darwin an individual East Timorese who may be under threat (eg the witness to the killing of the Dutch journalist, Mr Thoenes).

INTERFET confirms that eight bodies have been discovered in a well in Dili. The matter has been reported to POLRI. INTERFET continues to receive unconfirmed reports from the local population of the location of other bodies.

Today - 14 flights from Darwin to Dili are expected to be completed, taking in stores and another several hundred personnel.

Finally - The ADF has suspended until further notice, the deployment of media representatives to East Timor. At present there are some 300 media personnel in and around Dili, including those 41 accredited to the ADF.

General Cosgrove has made it very clear that Dili is still a very dangerous place. There are only limited areas where safety can be assured, and those who leave those areas are placing themselves at serious risk.

The death of Mr Thoenes and Tuesday night's attack on a vehicle containing two reporters has served to tragically underline that fact. We are aware that some journalists have started to leave Dili and in fact 25 or so were flown out by INTERFET aircraft today.

The strong recommendation is that non-accredited journalists in East Timor leave the province and the ADF is able to assist with flights back to Darwin.


ENDS

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