Leadership: August 17, 2003


On August 10th, an Australian SAS soldier was declared not guilty of charges that he had mistreated enemy prisoners during a firefight in East Timor in 1999. The Australian SAS commandos were sent to East Timor in 1999 as part of a peacekeeping operation. East Timor had long been the scene of unrest between the native population and settlers from other parts of Indonesia. The native East Timorese are Melanesian and Christian while most Indonesian settlers were Malay and Moslem. The Indonesians formed militias (secretly armed by the Indonesian military) and killed thousands of East Timorese to try and defeat a separatist movement. When Indonesia finally agreed to independence for East Timor, the UN peacekeepers were sent in to protect the East Timorese from the Indonesian militiamen, most of whom had moved across the border to largely Malay (and still Indonesian) West Timor. The SAS was assigned to patrol the border, as the militiamen were now crossing into East Timor and attacking civilians. The 1999 firefight was the first combat action of the Australian SAS since the Vietnam war. Two SAS men were wounded when the militiamen ambushed vehicles carrying the peacekeepers. The SAS returned fire and killed two of the militiamen, with the rest fleeing back to West Timor. The SAS soldier was accused to kicking the bodies of the two dead militiamen. 

Senior Australian officers heard rumors in 2000 that one of the SAS had mistreated prisoners, although the charge eventually came down to kicking the dead militiamen. All of the SAS troops involved saw this as absurd, and all refused to testify. The investigation went on for years, with the SAS believing it was kept alive by senior officers not wanting to admit they had made a mistake. 


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