|Subject: AP - Australia's defense minister
congratulates East Timor as peacekeeping troops withdraw,
Associated Press Worldstream
June 13, 2005 Monday 3:04 AM Eastern Time
Australia's defense minister congratulates East Timor as peacekeeping troops withdraw
Australia's defense minister on Monday thanked the people of East Timor for their cooperation during a six-year peacekeeping operation in which up to 5,000 Australian troops were deployed to the newly independent nation.
The troops were sent as part of a U.N. peacekeeping force after East Timor voted to break free from Indonesia in 1999.
The vote triggered a wave of violence by Indonesian troops and their proxy militias in which about 1,500 people were killed and 300,000 were left homeless.
Australia on Monday handed over control of the Moleana military base to East Timor's government at a ceremony with the country's Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri and military officials from both nations.
The ceremony marked the formal close of Australia's six-year military presence on the tiny island nation. Defense Minister Robert Hill congratulated the East Timorese people on their independence and their "remarkable progress" in restoring security and stability to their country.
"The progress we see today could not have been possible without the concurrent efforts of the Timor Leste people and their government," Hill said in a statement released Monday.
A handful of Australian defense force personnel will remain in East Timor under the Defense Cooperation Program and the newly created United Nations Office in Timor Leste, or UNOTIL, Hill said.
"Although the role of the Australian Defense Forces has now changed, our support to Timor Leste continues through the Defense Cooperation Program and a new mission known as UNOTIL, to help build the economy, infrastructure and security forces for the future," the statement said.
Until recently, Australia maintained 120 troops in East Timor. About 80 left two weeks ago and the final group are scheduled to leave on June 24.
Minister for Defence Media Mail List
Monday, 13 June 2005
HANDOVER OF FORWARD OPERATING BASE MOLEANA TO TIMOR LESTE
At 10.20am today, deeds were signed to handover Forward Operating Base Moleana, signifying the end of Australia's peacekeeping involvement in Timor Leste.
The Prime Minister of Timor Leste Dr. Mari Alkatiri, was accompanied by Australian Ambassador Margaret Twomey, the United Nation's special representative Dr Sukehiro Hasegawa and the Australian Land Commander Major General Ken Gillespie, as the Australian flag was lowered and replaced by the National flag of Timor Leste.
Australia will continue to support Timor Leste through the Defence Cooperation Program involving 24 ADF members, and the ADF contribution to the United Nations Office in Timor Leste (UNOTIL).
Local Timorese adults and children attended the ceremony and celebrated the historic event with a cultural performance. Australian soldiers returned the tribute, with a performance by the 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment Army Band.
Defence Minister Robert Hill congratulated the Timor Leste people on the remarkable progress made since 1999 in restoring security and stability to their country, which has enabled this transition from peacekeeping to peace-building.
"The progress we see today could not have been possible without the concurrent efforts of the Timor Leste people and their government," Senator Hill said.
"The help and goodwill of the Indonesian people and the support provided by the Australian Defence Force has been another crucial factor in arriving at a point where the peace-building mission, UNOTIL, can begin."
"Although the role of the ADF has now changed, our support to Timor Leste continues through the Defence Cooperation Program and a new mission known as UNOTIL to help build the economy, infrastructure and security forces for the future."
A morning tea followed the ceremony before guests were invited to conduct the official inspection of the facilities. ADF members have worked hard to improve the facilities within Forward Operating Base, Moleana to a state where it will now be a useful capability for the people of Timor Leste.
Please Note: Vision and images of the official handover will be posted on the Defence website. For further information please contact: * In Timor Leste: LEUT Ian Lumsden on 0437 675 324 * In Australia: Defence Media Liaison on 02 6265 3343 or 0408 498 664