The birth of a nation
Timor Leste has had a long and sometimes brutal passage towards independence. The New Zealand Defence Force has been there since the push for independence became the birth of a nation.
The people of Timor Leste overwhelmingly vote for independence. Pro-Indonesian militia initiate brutal raids that drag the province into anarchy. Buildings and sometimes whole villages are destroyed. Hundreds of East Timorese are murdered. The United Nations calls for immediate action and New Zealand joins Australia, South Korea, Thailand and the Philippines in a multinational force - International Force East Timor (INTERFET) - tasked with restoring order ahead of further UN action.
New Zealand's SAS is on the ground in Dili by the end of the month, working with INTERFET partners to secure the streets of the capital in advance of the larger deployments of people and equipment still to come. Planning for this had started in June, and these troops, along with a number of ships and aircraft have been at a higher state of readiness for over a month.
On the ground, New Zealand soldiers will work to secure the Cova Lima region, giving locals the confidence to return home and rebuild. Difficult supply routes, limited communications, and the devastation to lives and property left by retreating militia are going to make this challenging mission. Complicating matters further, the rugged terrain of the 1,700 square kilometre territory includes a long section of border between East and West Timor, across which militia are still mounting raids. Keeping the peace will put the 830 soldiers deployed by the end of October in harms way time multiple times in the months ahead, ultimately costing the lives of five of our people, including Private Leonard Manning who is killed-in-action in July 2000.
In the air, people and equipment are being flown from New Zealand to Timor Leste in Air Force Hercules and Boeing 757 aircraft. More locally, helicopters will prove to be an essential tool in building and maintaining New Zealand's presence across Cova Lima. Six Air Force Iroquois and 130 air crew and support personnel are in Timor by the end of the month. Their operations connect bases across the region with the headquarters in Suai, ferrying troops on mission, and flying reconnaissance and patrol across the densely forested hills of the region.
At sea, New Zealand has two frigates patrolling the waters around Timor Leste and escorting the ships that are supplying the INTERFET mission. Our frigates are part of a multinational naval taskforce that are keeping shipping routes safe and projecting the international community's resolve to protect this fledgling nation and its people. The tanker HMNZS Endeavour is supporting HMNZS Te Kaha and other ships in the INTERFET fleet with fuel and supplies.
New Zealand's mission in Timor Leste transitions from INTERFET to supporting the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET). With this shift the remit broadens to include creating and maintaining the conditions for the establishment of the new, independent state of Timor Leste.
New Zealand still has a battalion of up to 850 soldiers in Cova Lima. They continue to patrol the territory, deterring any flare up in violence, but they're also helping rebuild and develop the country. The Kiwis have built strong relationships in communities across their area of operation. They're picking up some of the Timorese Tetum language, and the locals kids are peppering "kia ora" and "kia kaha" into their interactions with the Kiwi peacekeepers.
In the settlement of Belulik Leten, New Zealanders are working to rebuild the school as well as helping out with some of the classes. In a sign of the trust the Kiwi's have earned, a young private is called upon by one of the children in a class she's teaching to help a local woman give birth to twins.
New Zealand completes the deployment of a sixth Battalion Group then transitions its focus to providing staff officers and military observers who will supply training assistance to the Falintil Force for the Defence of Timor Leste (F-FDTL), as well as support to the United Nations Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET). The Battalion Group deployments are described as of New Zealand’s most significant military operations since World War II. It provides the foundation for a warm and close relationship between Timor Leste and New Zealand.
In May 2006, following significant unrest in Timor Leste, including murders in Dili, the NZDF deploys a company sized group to assist in the restoration of peace and security. A substantial contingent is maintained in Timor Leste until 2012 with a wide variety of personnel involved including the deployment of our Air Force Iroquois. Our personnel contribute to the Australian-led military operation and work alongside the New Zealand police officers among others. Elections take place successfully and Timor Leste takes full responsibility for its internal security. When the final of 13 contingents depart in November 2012, we continue to support the Timor Leste military with advisers.
NZDF remains committed to East Timor’s security and stability and maintains a strong partnership through the NZDF’s Mutual Assistance Programme, which provides training assistance to the Timor Leste military.