Stories of Remembrance

Civilian Organisations, East Timor (1999- )Steve Ager Peacekeeper,UN Mission in East Timor

It was definitely a learning experience for me, being exposed to other Nationalities, NGOs and other Defence Forces and seeing the way in which they worked in achieving the UN mission and over time I came to appreciate their customs, language and cultures as they did the same for mine. If the chance to serve on a UN Mission came again, I would do it in a heartbeat.
Steve Ager

On 30 August 1999, the people of East Timor voted by means of a direct, secret and universal ballot to begin a process leading towards independence. UNTAET was established on 25 October 1999 to administer the Territory, exercise legislative and executive authority during the transition period and support capacity building for self-government.

East Timor became an independent country on 20 May 2002. Also that day, UNTAET was succeeded by the United Nations Mission of Support in East Timor (UNMISET) established by Security Council resolution 1410 of 17 May 2002 to provide assistance to core administrative structures critical to the viability and political stability of East Timor.

On handover from INTERFET, UNTAET was established in Dili, with it’s Head Quarters located in the semi demolished Finance building. The Peace Keeping Force consisted of Military personnel from 29 different countries. Civil Police were supplied from 35 countries. With an authorised strength of Military at 9,150 and civilian police at 1,640 it was a large organisation.

Operational problems were exasperated by cultural and language differences between the contributing Nations and was extended by National agendas of some contributing Nations as well. Despite these areas of friction during the first six months of 2000, more than 167,000 refugees returned from Indonesia, primarily from West Timor, with an estimated 85,000 to 120,000 remaining in camps in West Timor.

In September, a series of armed attacks against United Nations troops and East Timorese people along the border and in refugee camps in West Timor led UNTAET to declare western zones to be "high threat" areas. Following the murder of three United Nations staff members in Atambua, West Timor, by armed militias on 6 September 2000; humanitarian relief efforts in the region were suspended. By the time this mission was wound up, it had suffered 17 casualties in total; 15 military personnel, one civilian police and one military observer (UNMO).

On arrival to Dili, the destruction from the riots was still very real, as was the feelings of the local population as to the presence of the UN in their country. Allocated to the Operations Branch of the PKF and it was to turn out to be the most interesting work I had ever done in the ADF.

Working directly to a NZ Colonel, known as the Deputy Chief of Staff Operations (DCOSOPs), his deputy was Jordanian, and the rest of the Ops staff made up by all the contributing nations. The operations function was pretty well normal for a Divisional sized formation.

The island was basically divided up into sectors, being Sector West, Sector Central and Sector East. SECWEST was by far the busiest being closest to the East /West border and had an Australian Officer as it’s COMD.

SEC CENTRAL was commanded by a Portuguese Officer and SECEAST commanded by Thai Officer. The OCCUSI Enclave, which was part of East Timor but over the East/West border, was commanded by a Jordanian Officer. Each sector had a number of nationalities posted into it and it was not un common for an Australian Patrol to touch base with a Kenyan Patrol or a Portuguese Helicopter to transport Korean Soldiers into an AO or in fact travel out to the Enclave in a Russian helicopter!

The most inspiring thing about working in a Multi National HQ and environment, is seeing other Defence Forces and the way they were completing their mission and it had a profound effect on me. I was involved in the investigation of an alleged rape of an East Timorese National by a soldier from the PKF. Her husband remarked to me that the TNI had come and raped women and they thought these things would be stop when the PKF came into East Timor.

It was one of the hardest things I have ever done to try and reassure him and his family that the UN and CIVPOL would apprehend the individual who had allegedly done this and prosecute them to the length of the law.

In Conclusion to sum up service with the UN, it was an inspiring experience, highlighted by the dedication and professionalism of the members of the PKF and the resilience of the East Timorese people. It was definitely a learning experience for me, being exposed to other Nationalities, NGOs and other Defence Forces and seeing the way in which they worked in achieving the UN mission and over time I came to appreciate their customs, language and cultures as they did the same for mine. If the chance to serve on a UN Mission came again, I would do it in a heartbeat.
 

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