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International praise for NZ rescue mission

7 September 2000 Media Statement

International praise for NZ rescue mission


New Zealand defence personnel in East Timor remain on stand-by to further assist with evacuations from West Timor, the Minister of Defence Mark Burton said.

"Our airforce and army personnel have been widely praised for the professionalism they displayed in successfully evacuating 43 UNHCR personnel from Atambua in West Timor yesterday.

"Following the death of one militia leader Olivia Mendoza, his supporters retaliated by burning down villages and attacking the UNHCR compound in Atambua.

"The New Zealand battalion across the border in East Timor was asked to prepare an evacuation force. Approval was sought and quickly given from New Zealand. Three RNZAF Iroquois helicopters, with additional army security personnel, landed at a landing zone provided by the TNI, the Indonesian army.

"After the area was secured, they proceeded to ferry 43 UNHCR staff across the border to safety, in two trips.

"This was a courageous, timely and well-executed mission," Mark Burton said.

"The United Nations administrator in East Timor, Sergio de Mello, has expressed his appreciation and gratitude for the efforts of our defence force personnel, and the timeliness of the authorisation for the mission from New Zealand.

"The Australian Minister of Defence John Moore has asked me to pass on his personal congratulations to the New Zealand personnel involved for conducting a highly professional and successful rescue mission.

"The situation in West Timor remains dangerous and the United Nations is intending to evacuate its remaining personnel.

"The RNZAF Iroquois are on stand-by to assist in further evacuations if needed," Mark Burton said.

ENDS

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