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Aus soldiers leave East Timor

ABC Radio Australia - November 22, 2012

As the sun rises in East Timor this morning, Australian troops stationed there will begin packing up and pulling out. The Australian-led International Stabilisation Force made up of almost 400 soldiers, mostly Australians, is shutting up shop.

Sara Everingham

Tony Eastley: Australian troops stationed in East Timor will this morning begin packing up and pulling out. The Australian-led International Stabilisation Force made up of almost 400 soldiers, most of them Australians, is shutting up shop.

Sara Everingham reports from Dili.

(Sound of a truck)

Sara Everingham: Australian soldiers in East Timor are packing up and heading home. Major Dave Halliday is in charge of logistics.

Dave Halliday: We're loading up containers for all the equipment that's returning back to Australia.

Sara Everingham: Is there a lot to be done?

Dave Halliday: Yeah. As you can imagine we've been here for quite some time and it's our unit's responsibility to get all that stuff straight back to Australia.

Soldier: Attention!

Sara Everingham: A ceremony in Dili late yesterday marked the end of the mission of the Australian-led International Stabilisation Force.

David Hurley: The International Stabilisation Force will cease security operations in this country and begin returning equipment and its people to Australia and New Zealand.

Sara Everingham: The chief of the Australian Defence Force General David Hurley thanked the soldiers for their services.

David Hurley: For more than six years the International Stabilisation Force has provided security to our close neighbour and good friend.

Sara Everingham: In 2006 Australian troops returned to East Timor to help restore order after a mutiny split East Timor's new army. At its peak the International Stabilisation Force was made up of more than 1000 soldiers.

East Timor's prime minister Xanana Gusmao says international help was needed to put an end to the widespread violence.

Xanana Gusmao: On behalf of the government and the people of Timor-Leste, I give thanks to Australia and New Zealand and the brave soldiers that served with ISF for helping us achieve stability. As a result we now look to the future with optimism and hope.

Sara Everingham: The withdrawal of Australian troops coincides with the exit of the United Nations peacekeeping mission which has been supporting East Timor's police force. Xanana Gusmao described yesterday's ceremony as a landmark moment for the nation.

Xanana Gusmao: The departure of the ISF also represents a new stage for our nation in which we must take responsibility for our own security and for the future of our country.

Sara Everingham: General Hurley says East Timor's security forces have risen to several challenges this year.

David Hurley: We have witnessed the successful conduct of national elections, the formation of a new government and we celebrated the 10th anniversary of the restoration of independence. Each of these demonstrates marked progress.

Sara Everingham: East Timor's secretary of state for defence Julio Pinto says he's confident East Timor's army is much stronger than it was six years ago.

Julio Pinto: We have a security sector reform from five years, we have a lot of progress and we still step by step to change the mentality of our force to professionalise them.

Sara Everingham: The withdrawal of the Australian-led force is expected to be finished by April next year.

A separate defence program that's been helping train East Timor's army will remain in the country.

This is Sara Everingham in Dili for AM.