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NZ to extend military commitment in East Timor

11 December 2000 Media Statement

New Zealand to extend military commitment in East Timor

New Zealand's military commitment in East Timor has been extended for another 12 months, Prime Minister Helen Clark and Minister of Defence Mark Burton announced today.

"New Zealand has agreed to requests to extend its current battalion level of military commitment, for a fourth and fifth rotation," Helen Clark said.

"Australian Prime Minister John Howard has told me Australia would greatly appreciate an extended New Zealand Defence Force battalion presence in East Timor. Similar requests have come from the head of UNTAET, Sergio Vieria de Mello, and East Timorese leaders including Xanana Gusmao.

"These requests are based on the valued and highly appreciated contribution New Zealand peacekeepers are making to East Timor's security, and the unresolved militia threat, especially near the border.

"It will take time to develop an East Timorese Defence Force, which could eventually take over responsibility for East Timor's border security, and there is a need to ensure a benign security environment for the elections scheduled for next year."

Mark Burton said the current third rotation of a battalion group is in East Timor until May 2001.

"Battalion 4 (NZBatt4) will cover the period June to November 2001, and Battalion 5 (NZBatt5) the period December 2001 to May 2002. The deployment of RNZAF Iroquois helicopters can be maintained over the same period."

It was also announced today that the Government is to sign Memoranda of Understanding with the United Nations covering reimbursement for some of the costs associated with our peacekeeping commitment in East Timor.

"The memoranda will take effect retrospectively from 21 Feb 2000, when the UN took over command of the international peacekeeping force in East Timor," Mark Burton said.

"The United Nations payment process can be complex and lengthy. However, New Zealand has received US$9 million to date and the new Memoranda of Understanding should facilitate future payments."

The agreements are due to be signed at the United Nations in New York later this month.

"New Zealand's continued commitment to East Timor will involve second tours of duty for many defence force personnel," Mark Burton said.

"I know our servicemen and women are committed to returning to East Timor if they are needed, but it will require sacrifices by family and friends. The service being given is greatly appreciated by the people of East Timor, and the New Zealand Government," Mark Burton said.


ENDS

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