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AUS: John Moore - Sky TV I/V Transcript

THE HON. JOHN MOORE, MP
Minister for Defence

TRANSCRIPT: SKY TELEVISION NEWS, AUSTRALIA @ 0720 30/09/99

SUBJECT: EAST TIMOR

PRESENTER:
American Defence Secretary William Cohen says that Australian defence forces could soon ... I beg your pardon, William Cohen has voiced what defence experts fear, warning militia groups could soon be in a position to launch raids against Australian forces from across the West Timorese border.

Defence Minister John Moore has reportedly gone a step further. He's quoted in this morning's papers as saying Australia could pursue gang members into Indonesian-held West Timor. And John Moore joins me now from Canberra. Thanks very much for coming on.

JOHN MOORE - MINISTER FOR DEFENCE:
Good morning.

PRESENTER:
Are Australian troops going to cross into West Timor to hunt down Timorese militias?

MOORE:
Certainly this story has got a lot more legs on it than is warranted. Under the mandate of the United Nations, under chapter seven, if our forces ... the United Nations forces are fired on and engaged, then there is a right to pursue those people who attack them. If that happens to go across the border, then there is a limited ability to chase them across the border. They cannot go to any great distance and if they lose contact, they must withdraw immediately.

Now, it's very limited, it's fairly technical and it certainly doesn't deserve the sort of press headlines it got.

PRESENTER:
So Australian peacekeepers have to be ... or peacekeepers have to be fired upon before ...

MOORE:
They have to be fired ...

PRESENTER:
... any raids have to be ...

MOORE:
They have to be engaged by the militia or the enemy, as they see it. If the United Nations forces are, then they have, under chapter seven, a ... what is technically called a hot pursuit provision. Now, it's very limited, very technical, and I doubt if it'll be enforced.

PRESENTER:
Okay. So you don't think it's going to go ahead at all?

MOORE:
Well, it may, it may. I won't rule it out, but I say it doesn't deserve the profile it's been getting in this morning's press.

PRESENTER:
What have you heard about the militias starting to form groups in West Timor?

MOORE:
Intelligence reporting does show that the militias have concentrated in West Timor, that the success of the United Nations forces in East Timor has made it more difficult for them to operate. Now, we now have over four thousand troops on the ground in East Timor and this is making a very big difference to the security of that province.

However, we are concerned at the evidence we have of gathering numbers. That doesn't mean to say that anything's imminent, but it does mean to say that we need to take precaution.

PRESENTER:
US Defence Secretary William Cohen's now in Jakarta, you've spoken to him. What has he said to you in terms of US commitment?

MOORE:
Oh, they're completely committed to supporting the United Nations effort. At our meeting yesterday in Cairns, the secretary made further US commitments to the United Nations, which is very valuable. In terms of heavy lift, in terms of helicopters, in terms of intelligence, in terms of communications. They're a very valuable contribution and we're very aware of that. However, the total force is still coming together from the multi-nation grouping. And as they continue to arrive in Australia and to be deployed, we expect to be able to build those numbers up to at least seven ... seven and a half thousand by the end of October.

PRESENTER:
Well, John Moore, there's been some criticism and some confusion over whether Prime Minister John Howard has asked Mr Clinton ... President Bill Clinton and also William Cohen for ground troops directly. Can you confirm whether or not this has happened?

MOORE:
Well, the Prime Minister I thought made it very clear that in the discussions he had with the president did request troops, and it was indicated that they weren't available, but it was indicated that there is strong American support for the operation. In my case, I spoke to Secretary Cohen, and we discuss, on many occasions, a wide variety of topics, in which the question of will troops be available was raised.

In the end, they were not available from the Americans and so they were not formally requested, thus what Secretary Cohen said yesterday. And that's exactly the case, they were not formally requested, but the can... they were canvassed with both the President by the Prime Minister and with the secretary by myself.

PRESENTER:
Just finally, now that the peacekeeping troops are in Dili, can you give us an overview of how you think the peacekeeping mission is going so far, but also where you see the whole conflict going?

MOORE:
Well, I think it's going very well to date. The ability to get four thousand in in as relatively short time span to set up the commands, to be able to spread out into the East Timor provinces, to bring humanitarian aid across the province, have been a great success. Now, looking down the track, this has to be expanded. As the number of United Nations troops builds up, then these operations will continue. But there's a very great humanitarian need there. On top of that, there's a civil order required. Currently that's the responsibility of the Indonesians and that's not being carried out. And so the United Nations, I think, will have to put itself into a position of constructing an infrastructure of civil order, and that may not be possible until after the Indonesian parliament votes on the referendum that took place in East Timor.

PRESENTER:
Defence Minister John Moore, we'll leave it there. Thank you.

MOORE:
Thank you.


ENDS

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