The deployment of the battalion groups in Timor-Leste was preceded by a team of United Nations observers led by Colonel Neville Reilly.
The United Nations Assistance Mission in East Timor (UNAMET) was established to conduct a referendum on whether or not the people of East Timor wanted autonomy from Indonesia. Immediately the result of the referendum was announced, East Timor began to descend to a state of anarchy.
Colonel Reilly was then asked by the United Nations to assume responsibility for the security of the United Nations Mission. It was during this period that he displayed exceptional courage and presence in the face of great physical threat from the rampant militia forces. COL Reilly was eventually awarded the Gallantry Star for the courage and leadership he displayed during this period.
The New Zealand Defence Force supported various stability and security operations in Timor-Leste from 1999 until December 2012.
The International Force East Timor (INTERFET) was an Australian-led force deployed to East Timor in September 1999 following the complete breakdown of law and order including widespread violence, looting and burning by the militia after the referendum for independence.
The main tasks of the NZDF contribution were to facilitate the return of thousands of displaced Timorese from West Timor, provide border security in the New Zealand sector, helicopter support to the force, staff officers to two United Nations Headquarters and training support to the East Timor Defence Force.
The Royal New Zealand Navy was the first part of the NZDF to begin work in Timor-Leste arriving off the coast of Dili on 14 September 1999.
HMNZS ENDEAVOUR and HMNZS TE KAHA joined ships from other countries patrolling off the coast. Two RNZAF C-130 Hercules aircraft were sent to Darwin in preparation for flights into Dili airfield, and six Iroquois helicopters from RNZAF No 3 Squadron were deployed.
In September 1999 the New Zealand government decided to send an initial force of 420 soldiers and 265 Navy and Air Force personnel. In October 1999 the INTERFET mission transitioned to the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET). More than 6000 NZDF personnel would be sent to Timor over the period 1999-2002, including a total of six infantry battalions, supported by a frigate and a helicopter squadron throughout.
With independence in May 2002, the UNMISET (United Nations Mission of Support in East Timor) mission was established 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.
The NZ Battalion Group returned to NZ in November 2002, with three personnel remaining as military observers and one military assistant to the Force Commander. New Zealand also contributed a 22-strong Small Arms Training Team (NZSATT) to assist in developing Portuguese-sponsored Falantil Force Defence Timor Leste (F-FDTL).
With UNMISET closing at the end of May 2005 after successfully completing its mandate, 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 were continued to be built upon. The two NZ UN Military Observer roles also came to an end. As part of UNOTIL New Zealand Defence Force personnel deployed to Timor-Leste as Military Training Advisors.
On June 13, 2005 Australia began the withdrawal of its last peacekeeping troops from Timor Leste.
On 24 May 2006, President Gusmao approached the Prime Minister of Australia and asked for an Australian led intervention force to be deployed to assist with restoration of law and order in Timor-Leste. On 25 May 2006 the Prime Minister of New Zealand announced that New Zealand Defence Forces would deploy in support of the Timorese government.
Two months later the UN Security Council established a new expanded UN Mission in Timor-Leste for an initial period of six months - the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor Leste (UNMIT), expressing its concern over the still fragile security, political and humanitarian situation in Timor Leste.
“I returned to Timor-Leste in 2011 after being there years earlier with the battalion, and witnessed the development which bears testimony to the fantastic work completed by thousands of New Zealanders. In 2000 the country was literally rising from the ashes, entire villages on the border were empty, there was no electricity, and the people would panic at any hint of the militia.”
“Today the schools are full, the kids are wearing school uniforms, the markets are busy, and there is an air of confidence that comes from living in peace. When I left in December 2012 there was a sense that the job was completed, and yet through our ongoing defence relationship the Kiwi legacy remains.” ‒ Colonel Martin Dransfield
During this period the NZDF assisted the Australian-led coalition International Stabilisation Force (ISF) to work alongside UNMIT to support the Timor-Leste government and security institutions, including the Falantil-Forças de Defesa de Timor-Leste (F-FDTL, Timor-Leste Defence Force) and Policia Nacional de Timor-Leste, to maintain a stable and secure environment.
This contribution included a two Iroquois RNZAF 3 Squadron detachment (April 2007 - October 2008), and up to 180 personnel at any one time, working with the ISF, UNMIT, advising the F-FDTL, and in the National Support Element based in Darwin. The ISF finished operations in December 2012.
The New Zealand Defence Force still provides assistance to Timor-Leste through the Mutual Assistance Programme (MAP).
This page was last reviewed on 18 March 2015 and is current.