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Speech in Suai - withdrawal of NZ Battalion

The Mark Burton

Speech in Suai - withdrawal of NZ Battalion from East Timor

I am here to offer the New Zealand Government's congratulations to all the New Zealand Defence Force personnel who have served in Timor Leste over the past three years. Your record is exemplary and your professionalism and dedication is something that all New Zealanders are proud of.

Since 1999, the NZDF has been heavily involved in peacekeeping operations here-first in the observer mission UNAMET, then INTERFET, and its successor UN missions, UNTAET and UNMISET.

Throughout all these missions, the presence of New Zealand Forces has been a highly visible and practical demonstration of New Zealand's support for Timor Leste's security, reconstruction and development.

As a result, the NZDF has helped create the environment we see here today-an environment where the Timor Leste has overcome conflict to become the first new independent nation of the 21st Century. Our two countries have developed a warm and close relationship, one with we intend to support for many years to come.

When the NZDF first deployed into Timor Leste in September 1999, few anticipated that our contribution would continue for over three years. The deployment of our forces to Timor Leste is one of New Zealand's most significant military operations since World War II.

Both Timor Leste and the international community have publicly recognised New Zealand's disproportionately large contribution here, and I thank the UN, and the Government and people of Timor Leste for that recognition.

On a more sombre note, I would like us to remember those members of our Defence Force, and those forces who have worked under New Zealand command, who lost their lives in Timor Leste.

· Staff Sergeant Billy White (NZ 25/4/00) · Warrant Officer Class 2 Tony Walser (NZ 30/11/99) · Private Leonard Manning (NZ 29/7/00) · Private Boyd Atkins (NZ 14/3/01) · Private Dean Johnston (NZ 28/7/02)

· From Fiji-Staff Sergeant Maika Rakabu (11/9/01)

· From Nepal-Private Devi Ram (10/8/00)

· From Ireland-Private Peadar Flaherty (19/4/02)

I would also like to acknowledge the role of the Canadian, Irish, Nepalese, Fijian and Singaporean forces that have been attached to the New Zealand battalion. The dedicated work of these defence forces has made peacekeeping operations in Timor Leste truly multinational.

I extend a warm welcome to the Thai battalion, who is taking over from the New Zealand battalion, and to the Forces from Singapore, who will be replacing 3 Squadron, RNZAF.

Both these countries have had a key role in underlining the commitment of the ASEAN nations to provide ongoing, multinational support to Timor Leste. I wish you all the best for your future endeavours here.

While the withdrawal of the NZDF battalion and Group 3 Squadron marks the end of an era for New Zealand in Timor Leste, our Government will maintain a continuing military commitment to supporting Timor Leste.

Our remaining contingent of NZDF staff officers and military observers will supply training assistance to the Falintil Force for the Defence of Timor Leste (F-FDTL), as well as support to UNMISET.

This ongoing support to the F-FDTL will help ensure that the force is trained to a high professional standard, assist in facilitating the disengagement of the UN from Timor Leste, and will continue to be a vital component towards the securing of stability and good governance in Timor Leste

Timor Leste's stability is integral to the wider security of the Asia-Pacific region and New Zealand will continue to support Timor Leste efforts to build a stable and democratic independent nation.

The Government of New Zealand is proud of the NZDF personnel who have served here, and proud of the close bonds they have formed with the people of Timor Leste, particularly in the Kova Lima district. I know that our returning service personnel will always remember the friends they have made here.

New Zealand is a good friend of Timor Leste and is committed to work with the Government of Timor Leste as it moves along the path of democratic nationhood. In addition to the ongoing NZDF contribution, the long-term development assistance programme, diplomatic links and people-to-people contacts will remain important elements of the bilateral relationship. Note: East Timor is now officially referred to as the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste or Timor Leste. Likewise, the ETDF should be referred to as the Falintil Force of the Defence of Timor Leste or F-FTDL.

ENDS

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