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UN asks NZ to extend commitment in East Timor

17 December 2001 Media Statement

UN asks NZ to extend commitment in East Timor

New Zealand has agreed to a United Nations request to maintain its current peacekeeping commitment in East Timor until November next year, Defence Minister Mark Burton announced today.

"This is an acknowledgement of the outstanding job that our servicemen and women have done in bringing peace and stability to the devastated border area of East Timor," Mark Burton said.

"In May this year, we informed the United Nations that New Zealand was prepared to maintain a battalion-level contribution until November 2002, if asked to do so. The United Nations Secretariat has now made that request.

"NZBATT5 has recently deployed to East Timor and will remain there until May next year. The extension to November will be achieved through deployment of NZBATT6, and the continuing presence of Iroquois helicopters from RNZAF 3 Squadron.

"Following the democratic elections held in August, the United Nations has been looking at gradually scaling down its military presence in East Timor.

"However, the New Zealand forces have maintained a reputation for outstanding professionalism and have developed an unequalled relationship of trust and confidence with the East Timorese people. The United Nations has recognised that, and has requested that New Zealand maintains its presence.

"The United Nations has been informed that no further battalion-level contribution will be possible beyond November 2002, and New Zealand's military presence will be significantly reduced. As part of an appropriate exit strategy, the Government will consider ongoing contributions such as military advisors to the new East Timor Defence Force," Mark Burton said.

"New Zealand is already assisting this new force. The Government has agreed in the last week to extend the current deployment of eight NZDF personnel who have been providing small arms training. In addition, two NZDF driving instructors and two NZDF communications instructors will join an ANZAC training team.

"New Zealand is making a major contribution to the peaceful transition to stable self-rule in East Timor. The value that the United Nations places on this contribution is something that all New Zealanders can be proud of," Mark Burton said.

ENDS

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