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NZ Commitment To Timor To Become Battalion

New Zealand has today agreed to increase the size of its peacekeeping force in East Timor from a company group to a battalion group of more than 800 defence personnel, Prime Minister Jenny Shipley announced.

"The Government had agreed in principle to make a battalion group available if required. That request has now been received and we are now pleased to respond.

"It is important that New Zealand shares the burden of this regional exercise fairly. We will stand proudly by the Australians and other regional allies, to see peace and stability return to East Timor.

"The battalion-sized force will comprise more than 800 Army and Air Force service personnel, together with six Iroquois helicopters, 25 armoured personnel carriers, other support vehicles, a field surgical unit and a logistical support team."

"The additional 400 troops are expected to go to Australia for training and acclimatisation in mid October, and will be available to be deployed in East Timor by late October. The decision of when and where will depend on the requirements and planning considerations of the multinational commanders."

Mrs Shipley said that the New Zealand battalion will join the multinational peacekeeping force in East Timor, INTERFET, and its successor force within the United Nations Mission in East Timor, UNAMET, for a period of 18 months.

"The advance company of around 200 New Zealand troops began deploying to East Timor today, with 20 spearheading the transfer to Dili, after training and acclimatising in Darwin. They will join the contingent of specially trained SAS soldiers who have been in East Timor for 10 days.

"The balance of the initial force is expected to arrive in Dili by the weekend, making a total of over 320 defence personnel on the ground in East Timor," the Prime Minister said.

Other movements include:

· A chartered ship is due to sail from Wellington today carrying 21 armoured personnel carriers and other support vehicles and support equipment required to sustain the current force in East Timor. This ship is expected to arrive in Dili on about October 11th.

· The RNZAF No.3 squadron arrived in East Timor this week with three Iroquois helicopters and 90 personnel.

· A fourth Iroquois is to follow shortly. The final battalion strength will include two additional helicopters. Air Force personnel within the battalion will comprise more than 120 pilots and maintenance staff.

· A total of 280 naval personnel on the Navy tanker HMNZS Endeavour and frigate HMNZS Canterbury are already stationed off East Timor.

· Two RNZAF Hercules continue to be involved in the 'air-bridge' between Darwin and Dili, moving soldiers and equipment.

ENDS

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