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New Zealand troops begin repatriation from UN mission in Timor-Leste

New Zealand troops begin repatriation from UN mission in Timor-Leste

Troops from New Zealand ended three years of United Nations peacekeeping operations in Timor-Leste today, handing over responsibility for the rugged area that borders West Timor to soldiers from Thailand and Singapore.

In a formal ceremony in Suai District, at which a monument was unveiled to honour the contributions of the New Zealand battalion, the Thai battalion along with a Singapore rifle company and Singapore aviation assumed responsibility for the border post.

The hand-over ceremony was attended by President Xanana Gusmão, Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri and other government officials, the deputy head of the UN Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET), Sukehiro Hasegawa, and New Zealand’s Minister of Defence, Mark Burton.

President Gusmão praised New Zealand’s commitment to Timor-Leste, acknowledging that out of a relatively small National Defence Force, the country has had 646 of its troops committed as peacekeepers. He also paid special tribute to Pvt. Leonard Manning, who was killed while serving in East Timor in July 2000, saying, “We shall not forget his sacrifice.” The President went on to thank Private Manning’s family, which led a campaign to raise funds to build schools and help educate children in Suai.

Mr. Hasegawa cited the significant role of the New Zealand battalion in maintaining a calm and secure border area and in facilitating the return of refugees coming across from West Timor. He also praised “the compassion and devotion” the New Zealanders have shown toward the Timorese people, including helping in the “rebuilding of schools, clinics, water supply points and of a market.”

The first troops from New Zealand arrived in East Timor in September 1999 as part of the international force (INTERFET). Since then, the battalion has been operating in an area of over 1,200 square kilometres of very rugged terrain, with 80 kilometres along the Tactical Control Line at the border with Indonesian West Timor.

The troops will complete their repatriation from Timor-Leste on 19 November.