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National East Timor Homecoming Parade

National East Timor Homecoming Parade

Prime Minister Helen Clark Speech:

We are here today to thank all those who formed part of New Zealand’s contribution to establishing peace in East Timor: the men and women of the New Zealand Defence Force, from all ranks within the navy, army and the air force; and civilians from a wide range of government and non-government organisations.

East Timor is now the 191st and newest member of the United Nations. But in 1999 its people lived in fear as their families and neighbours were murdered, and as homes and whole villages were burnt to the ground.

Terrified East Timorese sought shelter in the United Nations compound in Dili as the world watched in horror. Dili was in flames when New Zealand’s C-130 aircraft joined with their Australian counterparts to form an air bridge from Darwin into Dili. New Zealand and Australia led the way in the formation of an international force of more than 11,000 military personnel from more than 50 countries.

Today’s East Timor homecoming parade acknowledges the sacrifice and commitment of all those who were there between the earliest days in 1999 through to the celebration of independence in May of 2002, and to the final lowering of the New Zealand flag over the New Zealand Battalion’s forward operating base in Suai close to East Timor’s border. The New Zealand Air Force No.3 Squadron handed over its duties to a Singapore force, and the New Zealand Battalion group handed over to troops from Thailand.

The Commander of the first Interfet Force in Timor, now General Peter Cosgrove, welcomed New Zealand’s Defence Force personnel in Timor as trusted friends and professionals. New Zealand’s defence personnel patrolled the most hazardous area, the border with West Timor, and built good relationships with local villages. They helped re-establish schools, health clinics, and water supplies. New Zealanders donated countless items from school pencils and writing books to children’s toys. Throughout, there was the support of New Zealanders at home for our service men and women and civilians in East Timor.

For our small country there was the great sadness of five New Zealand servicemen losing their lives while on operational service in East Timor. They are in our thoughts today, and we honour their memory as we honour all those who have returned.

The President of East Timor, Xanana Gusmao, has thanked New Zealand many times for its support for his country. He asks us not to forget that East Timor will continue to need much support and goodwill. Its people are among the poorest on earth and the development task is huge.

Those assembled here today represent the more than 4000 New Zealanders who helped East Timor. Each of you can look back on your time in East Timor and know that you helped at a critical time.

Today’s homecoming parade is the opportunity for New Zealand to recognise formally the work you did and the honour you brought to New Zealand. On behalf of the government, I say thank you for your contribution.

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