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Cameraman Detained By Australian Troops In E Timor

Cameraman Detained By Australian Troops In E Timor

DILI (AFP/Pacific Media Watch): A freelance cameraman for Associated Press television was detained for several hours by Australian peacekeepers in East Timor, who briefly seized his equipment.

Jose Belo, 34, said he and his driver, a former East Timorese policeman, were held for more than four hours after they were stopped by a team of soldiers and Australian Federal Police at a vehicle checkpoint near a hospital.

"I showed my ID card to them and they said, 'Who cares?'" said Belo, an East Timorese who has freelanced for AP for eight years in the country.

Both men were later released.

A spokesman for the Joint Task Force of peacekeepers said Belo had been detained for questioning because he was with "a person of interest".

But Belo said he did not understand why they needed to handcuff him, why they refused to let him film, and why they seized his camera, mobile phone and other equipment, which was later returned.

"I tried to film. They said 'no'," Belo said.

Belo said soldiers had asked him why he had the telephone number of Major Alfredo Reinado, who says he is in command of 600 soldiers sacked by Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri in March.

The sacking of the soldiers, after they complained of discrimination because they came from the country's west, plunged East Timor into chaos.

Twenty-one people died last month as sporadic battles between rival soldiers, and soldiers and police, descended into gang clashes and led the government to appeal for foreign help.

More than 2,000 combat-ready foreign peacekeepers, chiefly from Australia, are deployed in Dili.

Belo said his driver has been working for journalists since shortly after he left the police force on May 22 and handed in his weapon.

"He is a former bodyguard of the president and also of the prime minister," Belo said.

The Australian Defence Force said it respected the right of journalists to report in the public interest but said it reserved the right to "question journalists who are found with persons of interest."


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