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Last NZ troops leaving East Timor

NZ Newswire - November 7, 2012

The last contingent of New Zealand troops will return from East Timor this week, ending New Zealand's 13-year presence in the country.

The New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) contingent of about 80 personnel, which was part of the Australian-led 2006 International Stabilisation Force, is due back in Christchurch on Friday evening. A "theatre-extraction team" will remain to organise the return of equipment and vehicles.

The contingent's commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Steve Watts, says the local police are ready to take over after four to six years of training and building up numbers.

The New Zealanders had prepared for leaving by actually lowering their profile, so as not to give the impression foreign military forces were necessary for peace, especially during this year's successful elections, he told NZ Newswire.

The 470-strong ISF comprised mostly Australians, but the New Zealanders had made a significant contribution.

Lt Col Watts said United Nations security council members had described East Timor as one of the few successful UN missions around the world, but the country still faced an uphill battle. "Timor Leste is definitely a third world country. It's got a lot of hard work ahead of it."

However, the NZDF, along with New Zealand police, will retain a presence in East Timor for the foreseeable future, with five personnel continuing to mentor the Timorese military in small arms training, logistics, administration and English.

The former Portuguese colony was invaded by Indonesia in 1975, and the NZDF has been there since it started towards independence in 1999, when violence erupted following a referendum result that supported independence.

At the peak of the Australian-led Interfet, New Zealand contributed 830 troops.

In 2000, Private Leonard Manning, 24, was shot during an ambush. Pro-Indonesia militiaman Jacobus Bere was jailed for six years by an Indonesian court for the murder. Three more New Zealand servicemen were killed in accidents in East Timor and one took his own life.