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Australian Sexual Harassment In East Timor

Australian soldiers have been accused of sexually harassing and terrorising young East Timorese girls the commanding officer of the Australian-led peacekeeping force has admitted today. John Howard reports.

Major-General Peter Cosgrove said that "fairly strong steps" were being taken to find the culprits of an incident on November 24 last, and military police have arrested two soldiers for wearing civilian clothes. The two are said not to have been involved in the home invasion.

An 18-year-old girl is alleging that she and her sisters had been repeatedly sexually harassed. "Sometimes, they came to our house and say they are looking for women."

The girl said that on the night of November 24, "five to seven" men entered the family house in which the doors and windows had been removed in the militia violence.

Other incidents in September and December are also under investigation.

The other most serious was on December 16 and just hours after six young daughters of a Timorese family were reunited with their parents, who had fled as refugees to West Timor.

Their mother hid behind a tree as a group of Australian men in civilian dress stormed the house in the Dili suburb of Palapasu shouting they "wanted a lady."

The mother has since told friends she was considering taking the family back to West Timor because it was safe there.

Cosgrove says "we have apologised, of course, and are aghast at this." Although he thought the offences were very isolated but are being treated very seriously.

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