ANZAC Day 25 April 2009
Australians in East Timor -- INTERFET
In August 1999, the people of East Timor voted for their independence and freedom from Indonesia. In the wake of the vote, violence broke out across the territory leaving many dead and around 500,000 people displaced from their homes.
Some 50 members of the Australian Federal Police had been involved in the United Nations Assistance Mission to East Timor (UNAMET) in the lead up to the referendum as advisers to the ballot.
In September 1999, at the height of the post-referendum violence, the United Nations called for military force to help restore security and peace in East Timor and asked Australia to lead the operation.
On 20 September Australian troops, led by Major General Peter Cosgrove, were deployed as part of the United Nations International Force -East Timor (INTERFET).
For five months the Australian and allied forces worked to end the violence in East Timor, restore peace and administer humanitarian aid.
Around 10,000 troops from 22 nations were involved in INTERFET including some 5500 Australians.
When the first INTERFET troops arrived in East Timor they found the country in ruins infrastructure had been destroyed and the people traumatised.
The first ten days were tense the INTERFET troops were greatly outnumbered by the Indonesian military and Indonesian backed militia. INTERFET launched a series of operations against the militia, forcing them across the border into West Timor or causing them to abandon their campaign of violence. During the following months INTERFET consolidated its presence in East Timor and the East Timorese people began returning to their homes.
INTERFET was the first time Australia had been asked by the United Nations to build and lead a multinational force and to provide the largest component of personnel.
This was also the largest deployment of Australian troops since the Vietnam War. All three Services in the Australian Defence Force were involved in INTERFET. Much of the logistical work, including the delivery of humanitarian supplies, was carried out by the Royal Australian Navy and the Royal Australian Air Force, while the day-to-day patrolling and many other aspects of the operation were undertaken by the Australian Army.
INTERFET successfully completed its operation on 23 February 2000, handing over to the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET). Today, around 650 Australian Defence Force personnel remain in East Timor as part of the United Nations peacekeeping force.
More than 16,000 Australian military personnel and police have served in East Timor during the past decade.
Three Australian personnel died during their deployment in East Timor.
The first democratic legislative elections in East Timor were held on 30 August 2001. More than 91 per cent of voters elected a Constituent Assembly which passed East Timor’s constitution in March 2002. The Democratic Republic of East Timor achieved formal independence on 20 May 2002. East Timor is a good friend of Australia and we continue to support their democratically-elected government.
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