Injured ... brothers Adelino Madeira, right, and Lorenco were hit by an Australian army truck. Photo: Clinton Fernandes
The Australian Defence Force has admitted its soldiers in East Timor have been involved in nine vehicle crashes since 2008 in which civilians have been injured - but has ruled out paying compensation to the victims.
One of the previously undisclosed accidents left two Timorese brothers incapacitated and unable to work, causing their families to become destitute.
Defence's refusal to pay compensation has stoked ill-feeling towards Australian soldiers deployed in East Timor where, under Timorese tradition, victims are compensated, even in a token way, by people involved in deaths or injuries, no matter who was to blame.
Adelino Madeira, a 33 year-old father of two, and his 38-year-old brother, Lorenco Madeira, a father of four, were injured when the motorcycle they were riding in May last year in Lautem District collided with an Australian army vehicle.
Until the Herald asked questions about the accident, Defence had kept details about it secret, despite Australian soldiers having provided life-saving treatment for the brothers.
Adelino Madeira was evacuated at Australian taxpayers' expense to Darwin where he stayed for almost two months.
When the brothers arrived back in their village, the East Timor government gave them $US1500 ($1641) each.
But their injuries were so severe that Adelino has been unable to resume teaching and Lorenco cannot work as a farmer.
An Australian academic, Clinton Fernandes, who met the brothers in their village, said the men's families had no permanent income and were suffering. He urged a change of policy.
"The required compensation would be quite modest and far less than the cost of Defence's glossy brochures on winning hearts and minds on operations," said Dr Fernandes, a former Australian military officer and senior lecturer at the University of NSW's school of humanities and social sciences.
Australia has more than 400 soldiers serving in East Timor in the International Stabilisation Force. In a statement the ADF ruled out paying compensation to the brothers and other accident victims, saying that under a Status of Forces Agreement this is East Timor's responsibility.
The ADF declined to answer whether or not the brothers were given an apology or given a formal report into the accident.
"The ISF paid close and continued attention to the Madeira brothers' welfare to ensure they were provided the appropriate level of care," the ADF said.
The ADF's handling of the victims of its actions in foreign countries came under scrutiny this year when the Heraldrevealed that Australian soldiers abandoned a mother of nine after she was struck and injured by an army vehicle in Dili.