Thursday, June 13, 2024

NZDF responds to East Timor allegations

The New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) has released a statement in relation to a story aired on Australian television overnight alleging incidents of brutality by an Australian soldier that were reportedly witnessed by NZ soldiers in East Timor in 1999.

In a broadcast overnight, the Australian ABC’s Four Corners said secret documents revealed eyewitness accounts of New Zealand special forces soldiers accusing an Australian SAS operator of brutalising the corpses of two militiamen following a firefight in East Timor 23 years ago.

Australian Federal Police (AFP) investigated the case as murder, agreeing with military investigators that the wounded men may have been shot at close range in what was described as an act of revenge.

The Four Corners report stated that a New Zealand soldier had been told that one of the militiamen had tried to flee when he was shot by an Australian operative.

Witness statements from 11 NZ SAS soldiers were reportedly obtained by Four Corners. Some stated the bodies had been punched and kicked by an Australian soldier codenamed ‘Operator K’ by the ABC.

In a statement released today, NZDF said it was award of the situation being reported.

“Due to the passage of time, many of the senior NZDF personnel who were involved in the East Timor operation, either on the ground or in more senior roles, have left the Services.  In some cases, they are deceased,” it said.

“The NZDF has, in researching various questions asked by the ABC, had difficulty locating some records, especially as most records have not been digitised, but has provided responses that are to the best of our knowledge accurate.  

“As a matter of transparency, the NZDF wishes to release the following information.”

In a statement, the NZDF stated:

The 1999 allegations

The NZDF was made aware of concerns of detainee mistreatment that were raised by the NZDF Legal Officer in October 1999. 

Upon receipt of the concerns raised, in November 1999, the Chief of the New Zealand Defence Force at the time, instructed a senior NZ Army officer to raise the issues with the Commander of International Force East Timor (COMINTERFET) and recommended COMINTERFET initiate an investigation. This was an appropriate response consistent with our obligations under international law.    

NZSAS AND AUSTRALIAN MILITARY COURT MATTERS

The protection of the identity of members of the NZDF NZSAS is a fundamental aspect of their operational capability.   

We believe that our requirement was our standard procedures for ID protection, i.e. that NZSAS personnel would only be known by names such as ‘Trooper B’. It would also be common practice to have NZSAS witnesses screened in court, and prevent their names being used or published. Their actual names would be provided to the court and defence on paper.  This is not an unusual requirement.

We cannot confirm the details of why the ID protection measures were not met in this case.    

We note the Sydney Morning Herald story about the case ‘Army considers action against cleared SAS soldier’ (August 9, 2003) states that Australia and New Zealand have the same requirements on protecting the identity of their special forces and that “there was no ill feeling towards the New Zealanders for choosing not to appear before the magistrate”.   

“We have a strong relationship with Australian Special Operations Command and regularly and consistently conduct bilateral training and engagement, working together towards the security of our region,” said Special Operations Component Commander Colonel Duncan Roy.

The NZDF has no further comment to make on the matter at this time.

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