Minister of Defence to attend Timor-Leste Commemoration

Minister of Defence Ron Mark will travel to Timor-Leste today to commemorate the 20th Anniversary of the International Force East Timor (INTERFET), which was established to bring peace and stability to the nation after the independence referendum in 1999.

“Following the referendum there was a sustained period of instability and conflict,” said Ron Mark. “Without the INTERFET intervention many more innocent lives would have been lost. 

"All up New Zealand deployed over 6000 personnel to Timor-Leste between 1999 and 2002.   Five soldiers lost their lives during the peace keeping effort.

“In addition, two other New Zealanders were killed in 1975 and 1991 respectively.  These seven New Zealanders will be recognised with the unveiling of a memorial plaque on Thursday at the New Zealand Embassy.

“On Friday, there will be a parade through Dili where veterans who have travelled to the event will march to the Convention Centre for a remembrance ceremony. 

“This is a significant commemoration for Timor–Leste and the nations involved in INTERFET. 

“Timor-Leste has come a long way since the days of INTERFET.  It is a rapidly developing nation and they can be incredibly proud of what they’ve achieved,” said Ron Mark.

The seven New Zealanders who will be remembered at the unveiling at the New Zealand Embassy are:

Gary Cunningham: Gary was a part of the Balibo five, a group of Journalists who were killed in the period leading up to the Indonesian occupation of Timor-Leste.  He was working as a cameraman for HSV-7 network in Melbourne.

Kamal Bamadhaj: Kamal was a political science student and human rights activist based in Australia.  He was killed in the Santa Cruz massacre where 250 pro-independence protesters were killed at the Santa Cruz cemetery in Dili.

Warrant Officer Tony Michael Walser: Died when a road collapsed under the truck he was driving in Tilomar.

Staff Sergeant William Edward White:  Died when the truck he was driving fell down a 30m cliff.

Private Leonard William Manning: Was shot by pro-Indonesian militia on Foho Debalulik close to the boarder in East Timor.

Private Boyd Reagan Henare Atkins: Died in a swimming accident at Hera near Dili.

Private Dean Russell Johnston: Died in the United Nations Barracks in Dili.