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Wreath-laying At Tilomar, Timor-Leste

Wreath-laying At Tilomar, Timor-Leste
Hon Heather Roy, Associate Minister of Defence

Hon Heather Roy speech at New Zealand Defence Force Memorial Service; the Manning Memorial, Tilomar, Cova Lima District, Timor-Leste; Thursday, July 15 2010

Ten years ago, not far from this very spot, New Zealand suffered its first combat fatality since the Viet Nam War.

Private Leonard Manning was just 24 years old - a dedicated and skilled infantryman who had been deployed to Timor-Leste as part of the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) peacekeeping force, and who was based with his unit here in Tilomar.

On July 24 2000 - nearly 10 years to the day - Private Manning and his unit were on patrol near here, on a steep and inaccessible hill called Fono Debululik. They were on the trail of a group of nine suspected militia when they came under fire. Private Manning was hit and killed.

His death was a tragedy - not only for the Manning family and the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) but also - for New Zealand as a whole. The news coverage of the event was intense; we mourned the loss of a young man who had served his country well and who had won a reputation for his interest in, and concern for, the Timorese people. He was well known for sitting and talking to the local people, and for working hard to ensure they remained confident in the security and support that the New Zealand peacekeeper was providing.

It was scant consolation that the militia who killed him were captured, and one of them was sentenced to jail for six years.

It is tribute to the regard in which Leonard Manning was held that an East Timor School Trust was set up in his memory and continues to this day. Each year the Trust provides scholarships to help eight secondary students from the Cova Lima district study at the celebrated Dom Bosco Technical School, near Baucau. The Manning family is closely involved in the Trust and its work.

I suspect that, were he here with us today, Leonard Manning would be surprised and delighted at how far the country in which he died has come in just a decade.

It is timely today to remember also the four other New Zealand soldiers who have died in Timor-Leste while serving their country. Our thoughts go out to the families of Staff Sergeant Billy White, Warrant Officer Tony Walser, Private Boyd Atkins and Private Dean Johnston.

Since I arrived in Timor-Leste yesterday I have been impressed to see the activity and positive energy that is apparent in the streets, and to meet determined and optimistic people who are committed to the future of their country. I know that there are still many challenges to overcome here, but I sense that there is a strong sense of common purpose and great hope for the future.

New Zealand has been a part of international security operations and every UN mission in Timor-Leste since 1999. Thousands of Kiwis have served here - 7,000 in the military and others with the Police, Corrections, Customs and other parts of the public service. They have come to know Timor and her people and, when they return home, they pass their impressions and experiences on to their friends and colleagues.

This means that Timor-Leste has a strong constituency in New Zealand. As a nation, and as a government, we share a real commitment to this newest member of the South East Asian community. At present the most visible commitment is on security, through the International Stabilisation Force and through the UN Mission in Timor-Leste.

But the dynamics of our relationship with Timor-Leste are changing. As the government here builds the institutions of statehood and takes increasing responsibility for its security, so we and other international supporters will inevitably focus on other areas of assistance and symbols of friendship. Our bilateral relationship will become more focused on our Defence Mutual Assistance programme, economic growth and support for Timor-Leste's regional aspirations.

Ladies and gentlemen, this wreath-laying ceremony is an opportunity to reflect on the past, to the sacrifice of Leonard Manning and to the service of others who have supported Timor-Leste. Their efforts are a part of this country's national story.

Today is an opportunity to note the progress that Timor-Leste has made in the years since election monitors were sent here to scrutinise the referendum in the late '90's. We look forward with confidence to this nation's future. For that and much more Leonard Manning, his family and whanau can be very proud.

ENDS

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