Australian Commonwealth Coat of Arms


12 February 2008

Interview on ABC Radio National

FRAN KELLY: Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith will meet his East Timorese counterpart later today in Darwin. As we know, Australia is sending extra troops to East Timor in response to yesterday's assassination attempt on President Jose Ramos-Horta, and Australia has pledged full support to our new neighbour.

Reports from Dili this morning are the streets are calm following a 48 hour curfew. In a moment, we will cross to Darwin hospital for the latest on Jose Ramos-Horta's condition, but first let's hear from the Foreign Minister Stephen Smith, who I spoke to a short time ago.

STEPHEN SMITH: Good morning, Fran.

FRAN KELLY: Stephen Smith, what's the latest reports that you've had on the security situation in Dili?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, my early morning report is that things on the streets in Dili are calm, but obviously people are monitoring the situation very carefully, and our report on Ramos-Horta is that he remains in Darwin - in Royal Darwin Hospital. He's in a very serious but a stable condition and he's getting the best care that we can make available to him.

FRAN KELLY: Do we know any more detail yet of the circumstances of this attack, let alone the motivation of it, because there are conflicting reports around, some suggesting it was the President's guards who fired first when Reinado and his fellow rebels arrived at the President's villa, and that the President was caught up in the gunfire. That it wasn't necessarily - they weren't necessarily arriving there as an assassination attempt. Do you know any more of this?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, as I said yesterday, we're not proposing to rush to judgement. Some of the factual details are sketchy and motivation unclear. But given that you had two separate incidents or two separate attacks in the space of an hour and a half directed against the President and the Prime Minister of the duly elected East Timorese Government, we're proceeding on the basis this was essentially an assassination attempt against the two, and that's marked our response. Which is effectively a show of support for the duly elected East Timorese Government, and a show of strength with our commitment for additional troops and additional police officers made available to the International Stabilisation Force.

FRAN KELLY: Minister, if this was an assassination attempt, and, as you say, there were two separate attacks, it suggests a clear security failure doesn't it by the UN mission, the Australian forces that are part of that. I mean, even if one could be forgiven, the second one happened more than an hour later.

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, if we're not going to rush to judgement on the facts, and I think that's sensible, then we certainly shouldn't rush to judgement on analysis of security.

What we do know is that for a considerable period of time, I think nine months or so, maybe - I'm happy to stand corrected, Ramos-Horta and the Prime Minister have had their own personal security protection.

Yes, there was a point in time where security was provided to them by either Australian Defence forces or the International Stabilisation Force. But for a significant... for a period of time, they've been providing their own personal security arrangements and here we had two incidents, an attack upon the President at or near his home, and an attack upon the Prime Minister, on his way from his home to work.

So I certainly wouldn't be rushing to judgement about security arrangements. What we do know is this: that it's absolutely essential, from the East Timorese point of view, from Australia's point of view, and from the region's point of view, that we have peace and stability and security in East Timor to enable East Timor to grow as a nation state.

FRAN KELLY: Mmm. It's also clear that peace, and security and stability are very hard to entrench there and have been very hard to entrench there over the past couple of years.

We heard on this program this morning too from the former Deputy Prime Minister, Estanislau da Silva, that there were security warnings three days ago that an attack was imminent, that the President's office received those warnings three days ago. Have you heard anything like that or confirmed that?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I certainly can't confirm it. I haven't had that drawn to my attention. But again, as I say, we're being very careful here, in our view, not to rush to judgement about the facts. We were very careful yesterday in an endeavour to try and ascertain the facts. It took us a long time to be in a position to confirm that - for example, that Reinado had been killed in the course of the morning.

So we think the best approach here is the immediate show of support to the East Timorese duly elected government. We've done that by making an immediate additional contribution of troops for the International Stabilisation Force, an immediate contribution of police, and they will start to arrive in the course of the day, and also we've got HMAS Perth effectively stationed offshore.

In addition to that, we've got the Australian Government wanting to reflect the desire of the Australian people to stand shoulder to shoulder with East Timor and with the East Timorese people and the East. Timorese Government, which is why the Prime Minister has indicated he wants to go to Dili, to East Timor, at the end of the week to show that support and why I'm flying from Canberra this morning to meet my counterpart, Foreign Minister da Costa in Darwin later this afternoon.

FRAN KELLY: And will you be offering anything extra when you meet the Foreign Minister this afternoon or just reaffirming these commitments?

STEPHEN SMITH: Reaffirming our commitments and, at the first available opportunity, relaying personally to the East Timorese Government the strength of the support of the Australian Government and the Australian people.

FRAN KELLY: And the extra troops that we send there, will we be picking the troops with that in mind, that their job might be to hunt down these rebels?

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, it may or may not be. That'll be an operational matter. But obviously, in the past, both the International Stabilisation Force and ADF members of that have previously been engaged in the exercise of trying to find Reinado. And, as I say, at the request of the East Timorese Government, that ceased for a period of time.

Now, it may well be that in conjunction with the East Timorese Government there is some role for either the International Stabilisation Force and ADF parts of that. But that'll be a matter operationally to be determined on the ground in consultation with the East Timorese Government. But the main purpose - the primary purpose, the primary objective of this show of force, of this show of strength, of this show of support is to make the point the Australian Government very strongly believes that the long term future of East Timor requires peace, and security and stability.

We've had a terrible and shocking incident yesterday, an attack upon the President and the Prime Minister of the country, and we want to show, through the immediate application of these forces that the long term future for East Timor is an environment of peace, and security and stability which enables East Timor to grow as a nation state to do the sorts of things that you need to to provide your citizens with a chance in life: infrastructure, education, training, building the capacity and the governance arrangements of the nation state.

FRAN KELLY: Minister, thank you very much for joining us on Breakfast.

STEPHEN SMITH: Thanks very much, Fran.

FRAN KELLY: Foreign Minister Stephen Smith.


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