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Aussie Troops In Provocative Covert Moves

Australian special forces and navy divers have been carrying out covert operations in East Timor since April in a provocative move that prompted warnings from Jakarta. John Howard reports.

Senior defence sources in Sydney today revealed navy divers and members of Australia's Special Air Services (SAS) had been operating in the territory for months before the UN authorised the introduction of peacekeepers.

The covert operations are said to have begun after the Prime Minister, John Howard, put Australian troops on a heightened state of alert in April and prompted a warning from the Indonesian military that it was aware of unauthorised intrusions in June.

Australian divers scoured anchorages for anti-ship mines and scouted out potential sites for amphibious landing, while the SAS monitored the activities of the Indonesian military and pro-Jakarta militias.

The troops were reportedly inserted by helicopters flying at a low altitude to avoid detection by radar. Indonesian officers suspected flights involved covert shipments of weapons to indepedence fighters.

The scouting came ahead of an anticipated deployment by Australian troops.

East Timorese independence leaders, including Nobel laureate, Jose Ramos Horta, have now asked Australia to forward its intellignece materials to the UN so they can be used by investigators looking into atrocities.

However, Australia has been reluctant to let go of the information and reportedly angered US intelligence agencies earlier this year when it refused to share reports of the East Timor situation.

US officials complained to the Australian ambassador to the US, Andrew Peacock, but Peacock had declined to forward the reports because the Australian government considered the information too sensitive.

The revelations today, raises the possibility Australia has vital information on atrocities in East Timor carried out in both the lead-up and aftermath of the August 30 vote for independence.

The Indonesian public and politicians are said to be furious.


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