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AUS: John Moore - ABC I/V Transcript

Minister for Defence



REPORTER: Mr Moore, are you disappointed that Dr Mahathir has criticised Australian troops for pointing their weapons in the faces of unarmed civilians in East Timor?

JOHN MOORE: I think the Australian troops as part of the United Nations force in East Timor are doing a tremendous job. I've got -

REPORTER: So you reject those criticisms?

JOHN MOORE: I think it's more important really that - seeing that the Malaysians voted for a United Nations force. When we canvassed them with the possibility of putting in troops, they were offered the deputy commandership of the force. I'm very disappointed they didn't take up those invitations and participate in the United Nations rather than criticise.

REPORTER: So they turned down the deputy role?

JOHN MOORE: They were offered the opportunity to take that position.

REPORTER: Were they offered that before Thailand was offered it?

JOHN MOORE: They were offered that position.

REPORTER: Yesterday you talked about the so called 'hot pursuit' powers of the INTERFET troops. Does that mean that Australian troops could be chasing militia across the border into West Timor?

JOHN MOORE: What it means is under the Chapter 7 of the mandate, that if the Australian and United Nations forces are engaged - are engaged, hostile fire, then it's the ability of the United Nations forces to pursue those people who aggressed against them. Now, if that happens to go across the West Timor border and they are in active contact, that is permissible. But they cannot go far - and once they lost contact they must return home immediately. Now, it's very limited - very limited indeed, but that provision is there under Chapter 7.

REPORTER: So if there was a skirmish near the border but militia forces ceased firing as they headed back across the border, would the Australian troops - ?

JOHN MOORE: Well, that would be regarded as losing contact.

REPORTER: So they would not be able to pursue in that case?

JOHN MOORE: No, it's a matter of judgement - a matter of judgement. Something we don't see a lot - or anticipate a lot of. Currently there's been no action of this sort at all in East Timor - none at all. And so far it's purely press speculation.

REPORTER: So, what sort of powers then do the Australian troops have?

JOHN MOORE: They have full powers under Chapter 7 of the United Nations, and that gives them all the rights to defend themselves against action. Now, I thought Foreign Minister Downer pointed that out very eloquently in the previous program.

REPORTER: For several weeks now we've been hearing reports from people on the ground of militias massing on the border in West Timor. How large do you believe the threat really is along the border region?

JOHN MOORE: Well, we have intelligence information which says that they are numbers there. Now, we don't know what their intentions are. Now, it might well be that they're the ones that are retiring from East Timor, because there's evidence that quite a few have left East Timor - some for West Timor, some for other parts of Indonesia. Now, we're not sure that their intentions are, but we are prepared for any eventualities.
REPORTER: So how significant would you say the threat is of militias along the border at the moment?

JOHN MOORE: Well, it's hard to rate it. As I said, we are prepared for any eventualities. We are aware of some grouping there, but it may well be that they're just withdrawing from East Timor or going to other places.

REPORTER: Has the strength of the militias broken down since the arrival of INTERFET troops, in your view?

JOHN MOORE: Well, since we've been on the ground in East Timor, the United Nations has really secured Dili - secured the two airports, and they have spread out into various provinces of East Timor. There has been some disarmament. We've collected a number of large collections of weapons in East Timor, and we think that the militia are winding back. But their presence is clearly there, and we don't underestimate it.

REPORTER: William Cohen has made his way to Jakarta, and he's requesting permission for refugees in West Timor to return to East Timor. What's our knowledge of the circumstances surrounding the refugees in West Timor? Are they captive?

JOHN MOORE: Well, we don't know exactly how they've been handled there, but we do know there are large numbers - somewhere of the order of one hundred and fifty to two hundred thousand. Now, they are in, as we understand it, camps. The conditions in those camps we don't think would be particularly good. The United Nations are sending people there as observers through Indonesia, and certain humanitarian efforts have been made. The Australian Government has contributed $3 million towards that humanitarian aid in West Timor; and that's worth remembering. But at the present moment we are concerned - the United Nations is concerned with this deployment in East Timor, and that's going well.

REPORTER: In The Age newspaper this morning, Mr Moore, there's a report that Finance Minister John Fahey is demanding a sell-off of Defence properties to help fund our operations in East Timor. Has the Minister approached you on this issue?

JOHN MOORE: Like so many newspaper reports recently about the whole of the East Timor thing, that's another inaccurate report. When the reform program was put in place I think in '97, there was then a rationalisation plan for certain estates of the military. But on an on-going basis over many years, both in the previous government and ours, there has been properties bought and properties sold.

REPORTER: But it sounds like a logical way to gain some extra funds which are needed at the moment if the Government's not looking to dip into the surplus?

JOHN MOORE: It sounds a very good story to write in the newspaper when in fact the program is already there - quite explicit - it's already a plan on hand to sell certain properties, as we did during the Federation Fund.

REPORTER: So it won't be fast-tracked?

JOHN MOORE: I don't see any reason for it to be fast-tracked at the present moment. That would only lead to lesser prices. But there will always be ongoing relocations of assets within the Defence Department.

REPORTER: Mr Moore, thanks for joining us this morning.

JOHN MOORE: Thank you.


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