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Peacekeepers Cleared of Blame in W.Timor Shooting - 2001-08-06

A U.N. investigation has cleared New Zealand peacekeepers of blame in the fatal shooting of an Indonesian army sergeant last month. U.N. military observers say the Indonesian soldier in West Timor provoked the incident by firing across the border on a New Zealand patrol in East Timor.

The investigation cleared the New Zealand soldiers of any wrongdoing and found that the dead soldier, Sergeant Lirman Hadimu, had been out of uniform when he fired in the direction of the New Zealand patrol on July 28.

Under the current rules of engagement, the New Zealanders were not obliged to warn the Indonesian away and - suspecting him of to be an anti-independence militiaman - opened fire with more than 25-rounds.

With East Timor's first elections scheduled for August 30, U.N. peacekeepers have stepped up security along the 160-kilometer border with Indonesian-controlled West Timor to prevent any violence or terrorist threats from armed pro-Indonesia militia.

East Timor - which voted to separate from Indonesia in 1999 - is under U.N. administration until full independence next year. Some 8,000 U.N. peacekeepers are currently responsible for East Timor defense and security.