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AUS: John Moore - Nine Network I/V Transcript

Minister for Defence


COMPERE: Joining us now from Canberra - Australia's Defence Minister John Moore. Minister, good morning to you.

JOHN MOORE: Good morning Steve. How are you?

COMPERE: Very well. I want to get onto the cross-border activity in a moment, but overnight the Malaysian Prime Minister has claimed that Australian troops in particular are acting in an aggressive and belligerent manner as they stop civilians, including members of the militia, for questioning. And there were reports earlier this week that the Thais were expressing the same view. Do you want to respond to that?

JOHN MOORE: Well, I think the Australian troops and the United Nations troops generally in East Timor have behaved very, very well in indeed. The operation to date has I think been a great success. We've now got over 4,000 on the ground there. In the period we've been operating we've managed to have no clashes of any material sort with the militia, and I think it's a very great credit to the operation there. I'm surprised at the criticism.

COMPERE: And you would say to the Malaysian Prime Minister 'we are not overstepping the mark'?

JOHN MOORE: I would say to the Malaysian Prime Minister that really as a nation leader we would hope that you would direct troops to join the United Nations force in East Timor rather than to criticise it.

COMPERE: You and Pentagon chief William Cohen have expressed fears that the pro-Jakarta militia could be preparing for raids across the border with East Timor. If that happens, where does that leave the peacekeeping force, and the Australians in particular?

JOHN MOORE: Well, under Chapter 7 of the United Nations mandate we do have the full powers to repel any aggressors on the Australian or the United Nations troops. We are concerned of some of the reportings we were getting of gatherings on the West Timor side of the border; but we are still in a case of planning for all eventualities, and we will meet them; but we are in no way concerned as the total project. We are out there looking for humanitarian sites, we are out there securing the UNAMET site, we are out there developing a whole network across East Timor at the present moment, not just concentrating on the militia problem.

COMPERE: I understand that. But are you saying that under Chapter 7 of the mandate, if militia launch attacks across the border on peacekeeping troops, those troops can pursue the militia back across the border with West Timor, and will?

JOHN MOORE: What you're referring to, Steve, is the 'hot pursuit' clause of the Chapter 7 of the United Nations. Under that very limited - and I pointed this out yesterday - a highly technical and limited area, that if an incursion was made into East Timor and engaged the United Nations troops and fire on them, the United Nations troops do have the ability to have a limited chase. Once they lose contact they must return straight away.

COMPERE: Okay. Just on the question of the mandate. We're hearing again the captured militiamen, including some of those suspected of committing awful atrocities - murdering civilians - are being freed mostly within 24 hours. Do you want the 'detain, question and release' rule changed?

JOHN MOORE: At the present moment there's really no civil authority within East Timor. The technical position is it's still an Indonesian area, and they have the responsibility for civil management. But clearly that's broken down, and the United Nations forces at the moment do detain various elements. But after questioning, they've got no way in which they can detain them further, and they are released to the Indonesian authorities.

COMPERE: Hardly much point is there - unless we can hold them?

JOHN MOORE: Well, I know. But that's the point at the present moment. We think that the United Nations should be empowered with some civil authority. But that's not possible until after the Indonesian parliament votes on the referendum that took place in East Timor.

COMPERE: Okay. There are reports, Minister, that our troops are stretched too thinly to lead this mission and that they don't have the experience in this kind of work. Are you concerned that we're moving too slowly?

JOHN MOORE: Not at all. I think, as I said before, there's over 4,000 on the ground at the moment. We are the predominant force there and we're the leaders of it. Secretary Cohen yesterday expressed very great admiration for the way in which we've handled the task to date. I notice that the American Congress yesterday passed a motion along the same lines. Not only that, it's worth pointing out that the Americans came up with extra support for us yesterday, and that proves the point of what the Prime Minister was saying in Parliament yesterday - that he requested - and I certainly spoke to the Secretary Cohen about the prospects of troops in East Timor. That wasn't available. In the formal request - in the formal request we got all the items we wanted, including extra yesterday in the discussions I had with Senator Cohen.

COMPERE: Okay. And if you want more will they give us extra?

JOHN MOORE: At the present moment we've got all we need. There's - by the end of October we should anticipate to have all the United Nations forces in place. Currently the build-up is going on. And as I say, we're over 4,000. That's a very commendable number, and we think that will meet all eventualities. We don't anticipate requiring extra at this moment. But if you do, there are a number of people who will make up the numbers in East Timor.

COMPERE: Okay. Leave it there this morning. Thanks for your time.

JOHN MOORE: Thank you.


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