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First New Zealand troops arrive in East Timor

20 September 1999

Man in camouflage military uniform wearing medical gloves and stethoscope surrounded by people in civilian clothing
Royal New Zealand Air Force medic with East Timorese civilians (NZDF)

New Zealand troops arrived at Komoro airfield in Dili, the capital of Timor-Leste (East Timor), as part of the Interfet mission to stabilise the province in the wake of a referendum in August in which 78% of voters had opted for independence from Indonesia rather than autonomy within the country. Following the announcement of the result, pro-Indonesian militia had launched a campaign of violence and destruction in an attempt to thwart implementation of the popular will.

As the violence intensified, the unarmed personnel of the United Nations Assistance Mission in East Timor (UNAMET) who had conducted the referendum were withdrawn. New Zealand had contributed five military liaison officers and 10 civilian police to UNAMET. This mission was replaced by a UN-sanctioned multinational force, Interfet, which grew to a maximum strength of 11,500 personnel drawn from 22 countries.

The first New Zealand troops to land in Dili were members of the Special Air Service (SAS). Weighed down by weapons, equipment and body armour, they ran from their C-130H Hercules transport aircraft as soon as it came to a halt. The airfield was secured without a shot being fired.

During the initial deployment of Interfet, RNZAF Hercules aircraft made two return flights each day between Darwin and Dili. By the end of September the RNZAF had delivered nearly 350,000 kg of supplies and equipment and 350 personnel. Meanwhile, the Royal New Zealand Navy frigate HMNZS Te Kaha undertook surveillance and escort duties in the Timor Sea, and the fleet oiler HMNZS Endeavour refuelled naval vessels and delivered supplies to Dili.

Five New Zealand peacekeepers were to die in East Timor during this mission. Private Leonard Manning was killed in an ambush by pro-Indonesian militia on 24 July 2000.

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First New Zealand troops arrive in East Timor, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated