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Corrections Staff Posted To East Timor Recognised

Recognition For Corrections Staff Posted To East Timor

They opened new prisons and set up a system for running them in a devastated country.

And today the work of twenty-four Corrections staff who helped to set up prisons in East Timor was recognised with the presentation of medals in a ceremony at Parliament.

Corrections staff went to East Timor after Corrections Minister Matt Robson was personally approached by East Timorese independence leader Xanana Gusmao asking for assistance.

They've been recruiting and training local staff, opening three new prisons and setting up processes to run the prisons.

The United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) Director of Governance, David Harland, praised their work last year at the opening of the rebuilt Becora prison in Dili.

Mr Harland said the United Nations and the people of East Timor owe a profound debt of gratitude to all New Zealanders. "I cannot speak highly enough of New Zealand Corrections officers in East Timor. Today in Dili has been an example of New Zealand and New Zealanders at their best: principled and practical," Mr Harland said.

The East Timor Medal recognises outstanding contributions made by New Zealanders, both civilian and military, to the reconstruction of East Timor since June 1999.

Corrections Minister Matt Robson presented the medals to Corrections staff today, saying they were sent to East Timor after he received a request as Minister of Corrections and Minister responsible for overseas aid.

"The East Timor corrections system had been devastated. Inadequate, insecure buildings were being used as prisons. Offenders were being turned away because of over-crowding. There was a lack of experience and expertise in running prisons.

"The dire situation posed a major threat to peace and stability in Dili," Matt Robson said.

Since April 2000, the Department of Corrections seconded managers and Corrections Officers from the Public Prisons Service for six months at a time. In total, 26 Corrections staff have served in East Timor and a further twelve are currently there.

Recruitment and training of East Timorese staff has been a major focus for the New Zealand contingent, with over 100 local staff employed now running the prisons.

The focus has changed from setting up the prisons to preparing East Timorese staff to take full responsibility themselves. Corrections Department staff are stepping back from operational matters and moving to an advisory role.

At the medal presentation, Matt Robson thanked the partners of the PPS staff who went to East Timor.

“I know how difficult it can be when your loved one is working away from home, in a potentially risky environment. Families need support in such situations. I hope that families will take as much pride in these medals as the officers receiving them, and as I take in recognising their contribution," Matt Robson said.

Family support provided by the Corrections Department includes a fortnightly mailbag and an email service. If the family does not have access to email they are able use an 0800 number that converts messages to email. Every second Wednesday, the Department organises a conference call for partners. Staff in East Timor are provided with pre-paid cell-phones, the costs of which are shared between staff and the Department.

In March, the Prime Minister presented the first East Timor medal to a PPS staff member. Mel Tihore received his medal in a ceremony to acknowledge the contribution of New Zealanders from a range of organisations who served in East Timor.

Elections for an East Timorese Government are scheduled for August 2001.

Ends

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