Subject: ABC: Last Australian troops leave East Tim

Last Australian troops leave East Timor today

AM - Friday, 24 June , 2005 08:24:00

Reporter: Anne Barker

TONY EASTLEY: East Timor begins a new era today, as it officially takes control of its own defence for the first time.

For nearly six years East Timor has relied on foreign peacekeepers to maintain stability and prevent a return of the violent militias that wreaked havoc in the lead-up to independence.

The last Australian soldiers fly out of Dili this morning, ending an operation that was, at its height, Australia's biggest military undertaking since the Vietnam war.

Anne Barker reports.

NEWS REPORT (archival): The arrival of that force in East Timor is imminent.

JOHN HOWARD (archival): We wish you godspeed and a safe return home…

ANNE BARKER: Monday, September the 20th, 1999. The first wave of Australian troops landed in devastated East Timor. Everywhere buildings were in ruins or on fire, and hundreds of people had been killed by the rampaging militias that laid East Timor to waste.

At the height of the UN peacekeeping operation 5,000 Australian troops were on the ground, containing the militia threat and patrolling the border. Today, nearly six years on, the last 14 soldiers are pulling out and on their way home.

Their commander, Lieutenant Colonel Brian Cox, says there's a feeling of immense pride at the job they've done.

BRIAN COX: I think the greatest achievement has been the significant contribution to stability and security here, you know, containing the militia, providing a sense of freedom to the people here of East Timor, and then allowing them, as we are now, to go into the area of nation-building.

ANNE BARKER: Today East Timor is a very different place from the scene of carnage and destruction of 1999. Peace is largely restored, and foreign troops have helped train the country's own defence and police forces.

And the man who led those first Australian troops into Dili, General Peter Cosgrove, says despite some concerns that peacekeepers are leaving too soon, he's confident East Timor's own army is ready for the challenge.

PETER COSGROVE: Well, they're at a fledgling level, but they are never, I don't suppose, proposed to be very large, as would be, I suppose, appropriate for a small nation. But nonetheless, I think they're very proudly patriotic, and prepared to deter small groups of people who might wish, in some way, to breach the laws of Timor Leste.

TONY EASTLEY: The Australian Defence Force Chief, General Peter Cosgrove, ending that report from Anne Barker.

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