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28 March 2001

Address to East Timor Medal Presentation

Rt. Hon Helen Clark


During and since 1999 some 2,200 New Zealanders have given service in East Timor. That service has been given in both civilian and military roles.

Last year the government decided that this extraordinary contribution should be acknowledged by the award of a special medal. Mr Phillip O'Shea, our Herald of Arms, has designed a particularly striking medal to be awarded for this service.

In today's ceremony we are recognising a representative cross-section of those who have served in East Timor. Brigadier Martyn Dunne led the very first armed forces deployment. There are other representatives of each of the armed services, along with representatives of the Police, the Department of Customs, and the Department of Corrections; and Dr Andrew Ladley, a civilian legal adviser who courageously stayed on in Timor after the referendum in 1999.

For a small country we have made a very big contribution to the reconstruction of East Timor. New Zealand troops were among the first peacekeepers to go into East Timor on 20 September 1999.

The fact that we responded early, and we have carried on there in both military and civilian capacities, demonstrates our strong commitment to seeing East Timor get the best possible start as an independent nation. It also shows our ongoing strong support for the United Nations as the primary guarantor of international security.

Our military contribution peaked at over 1,000 service men and women when sea and air support was required as well as army. Today there are 670 New Zealanders stationed in Timor.

As I mentioned in Parliament earlier today, around fifty per cent of the New Zealand Army is either in Timor, recovering from Timor, or preparing to go to Timor at any one time. The Australians have only fifteen per cent engaged in that way, which reflects how substantially larger their army is. Our proportional contribution is extraordinary.

Our contribution sadly has not been without cost. It is appropriate to remember today the four servicemen who died in East Timor.

New Zealand has benefited from the experience our forces have gained as they work alongside those of other nations. We have had Fijian, Irish, and Nepalese soldiers working with us, and in another month or so, Singaporeans will join our troops. There has also been the closest possible co-operation with Australians in the sector we are both working in.

I hope that everyone receiving a medal today will share a tremendous sense of achievement at having been involved in the amazing story which is East Timorese independence. You have made a difference, and you have done something very worthwhile.

What should be noted is the readiness of New Zealanders to leave their jobs and fly off into a hot, dangerous place. That underlines the priority that human rights and support for self-determination has in New Zealanders' hearts and actions.

I believe that New Zealand's reputation in East Timor has been second to none. That reputation is built on the contribution which so many New Zealanders like the eight here today have made. You have all done us proud. We truly thank you for that and congratulate each of the recipients.

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