Compensation culpability not ours: Defence

Date February 8, 2010

Lindsay Murdoch NT CORRESPONDENT

THE Australian Defence Force has retracted a claim it gave the family of a 65-year-old East Timorese woman, who died after being hit by an army vehicle, compensation forms and advice on how to fill them out.

Defence has also said it would not pay compensation in East Timor, including to the woman’s family, for the actions of its 450 soldiers deployed there.

More than six weeks after Gracinda da Costa was struck on a Dili street, Australian soldiers serving in the International Stabilisation Force, or ISF, in East Timor still have not contacted her family to tell them what happened, express regret or advise them about compensation.

Mrs da Costa’s son-in-law, Cornelio Baros, said the family should be compensated because of the hardship her death has caused her family, including her daughters Fatima, 13, and Josefina, 15, who are now living with separate families.

In Timorese tradition families are compensated, even in a token way, by people involved in a death, no matter who was to blame.

A Defence official said that an ISF medical officer provided Mrs da Costa’s family with compensation forms and advice about how to complete them on December 18, the day she was admitted to hospital. But family members said they had no knowledge of this.

Asked further questions, Defence said the ISF’s medical officer gave a compensation form for property damage – not personal injury or death – to a doctor at the hospital after Mrs da Costa was admitted.

”Given the language barrier, [the medical officer] asked the treating doctor to provide the forms to the family,” Defence said in a statement.

Its statement on January 27 left the impression Defence was open to pay compensation.

It said it was ”inappropriate” for the ISF to contact Mrs da Costa’s family while a Timorese police investigation into the death was under way.

Defence said that under the terms of the agreement which saw Australian soldiers deployed in East Timor in 2006 the Timorese government ”pays compensation to those citizens affected by ISF actions”.

The statement said complaints against the ISF are investigated by the ISF and Timorese government and ”resolved through negotiation between our two governments”.

The Herald has reported that Australian soldiers were unaware for 13 days that Mrs da Costa had died from a head injury the day she was admitted to hospital.

A brief statement issued by Defence on January 21 – more than a month after the death – said military personnel administered first aid at the scene before a woman they did not name was taken to hospital by an Timorese ambulance.

The statement said the woman suffered only a broken leg and lacerations.

But Mr Baros said Mrs da Costa had a 10-centimetre gash on her head, among other injuries, and doctors could not save her after a three-hour operation.

Australian troops in East Timor, in effect, have immunity for any crimes they commit, on and off duty.

Article source: www.smh.com.au