Final withdrawal of Australian troops from East Timor

Monday, June 13, 2005

The Australian defence force handed the deeds to an ADF (Australian Defence Force) base in East Timor back to the country's government today, representing the end of armed peacekeeping in the country. The ADF says almost all their personnel will be out of the country within a fortnight. A small number will remain as part of a defence cooperation program between the two nations.

The East Timorese Prime Minister and other dignitaries were present for the handing over of the deeds. Troops from the armed forces of both Australia and East Timor paraded together while the Australian flag was lowered.

The Molena base, near the border with West Timor, has been operated by the ADF for the past three years. The site will now become a school.

A senior lecturer in international relations and strategy from the Australian National University, Doctor Michael McKinley, said "Although there's going to be a defence presence left in the country ... the peacekeeping presence could perhaps have been extended, particularly if there are any reservations whatsoever in the East Timorese Government about their ongoing security concerns. My understanding is that there are certainly some concerns still remaining."

"For the sort of psychological security of the East Timorese and perhaps even as a general message to the residue of trouble making, I thought perhaps Australia might have stayed somewhat longer," he said.

Lieutenant Colonel Brian Cox, commander of the ADF in East Timor, says he believes the country is being left in safe hands.

"We came in here in a period of turmoil in 1999 with INTERFET and General (Peter) Cosgrove leading the 5,000 Australians then, and we're now leaving with economic prosperity now in place," he said.