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Time's Changing in Timor

New Zealand Defence Force
Te Ope Kaatua O Aotearoa

Time's Changing in Timor


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WN 05-0170-01 - Squadron Leader Karen Mead with a Military Liaison Officer from Jordan and Bangladeshi helicopter crew during a patrol to a remote village.

A new era has dawned in Timor-Leste, where infrastructure and stability is rising out of the ashes of a troubled history. As New Zealand's last Military Observer to serve in the region, Squadron Leader Karen Mead (Blenheim) has witnessed the changes first hand. Danielle Coe Reports...

Seeing the joy on the faces of families reunited after years apart will be a lasting memory for Squadron Leader Karen Mead who leaves Timor-Leste this week. A member of the Royal New Zealand Air Force, Squadron Leader Karen Mead, originally from Blenheim, has spent the past year in Timor-Leste working with villagers and security agencies alike. "Working with the locals has been amazing. I've gained an insight in to their culture and what they went through during the years of Indonesian occupation."

With the United Nations Mission of Support In East Timor (UNMISET) now over, Squadron Leader Mead will be the last New Zealand Military Observer to serve in the region.

"As a Military Observer my duties included patrolling to villages within 5km of the Indonesia to talk to villagers about the security situation. I've brought families back together and repatriated refugees."

Last month the United Nations Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET) was brought to an end after successfully completing its mandate.

It was established in 2002 to provide security while also developing a law enforcement agency. It was also directed to help core administrative structures critical to political stability in the region.

With UNMISET closed, the United Nations Security Council established the United Nations Office in Timor-Leste (UNOTIL), a one-year mission to ensure the foundations for a stable country are continued to be built upon. A month on from the transfer of UN Missions, the changes are already visible.

"As you travel around you see buildings that had been damaged in 1999 are now being repaired or new buildings erected."

As part of UNOTIL New Zealand Defence Force personnel deployed to Timor-Leste will now work as Military Training Advisors. Their role will be to teach and mentor Boarder Patrol Units and facilitate meetings between Units and Indonesian Army.

"It's a positive change as it means there is no longer a requirement for a peacekeeping mission, rather the focus is now on capacity building."

But Squadron Leader Mead has also seen the harder side of life for those living in isolated villages.

"While they all have the same basic needs for food, shelter and water the options available for meeting them very different. The villagers often have to walk long distances to get water, to visit the doctor or for the children to get to school."

The worst part of her deployment has been the staple diet of chicken and rice, but that's been quickly outweighed by a long list of highlights.

"Seeing the smiles on the faces of the children when you drive through a village. Being recognised as a Kiwi - a sign that the contribution New Zealanders made is still remembered."

Squadron Leader Mead begins a three-month travel expedition when she leaves Timor-Leste on Thursday, before returning to a new posting with the RNZAF.

Side Bar New Zealand Defence Force Personnel are deployed around the world's trouble spots, with the Defence Force contributing to 19 Missions from Afghanistan through the Middle East and Europe to Timor and the Solomon Islands.

Four members of the NZDF are currently serving in Timor-Leste, three as advisors to the East Timor Defence Force and one as a Military Training Advisor with UNOTIL.


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WN 05-0170-03 - Squadron Leader Karen Mead with a Nepalese Military Liaison Officer and members of the Indonesian Army and Boarder Patrol Unit following a border meeting at one of the junction points.


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