New Zealand soldier killed in Timor-Leste

24 July 2000

The casket of Private Leonard Manning arrives in New Zealand (Ross Land/Getty Images)

Private Leonard Manning was the first New Zealander killed in combat since the Vietnam War. Manning’s patrol was part of New Zealand’s contribution to the United Nations (UN) peacekeeping force in the fledgling nation of Timor-Leste (East Timor).

Pro-Indonesian militiamen ambushed the New Zealanders near the top of Foho Debululik, a steep hill close to the border with West Timor. The ambush became the subject of both a military Court of Inquiry and an Indonesian murder trial in which Manning’s killer received a six-year sentence.

Violence had erupted in East Timor in September 1999 after an overwhelming majority of its people voted in favour of independence from Indonesia in a UN-supervised referendum. Pro-Indonesian militias wreaked havoc after the result, killing more than 1000 people.

With the arrival of a UN peacekeeping force, the militias fled across the border into West Timor, from where they launched sporadic armed raids such as the one that led to Manning’s death. Four other New Zealand peacekeepers died while serving in East Timor.