by DAVID AXE
The Australian withdrawal from East Timor continues, three years after ethnic tensions in the new country’s police force escalated into widespread violence. It’s been nearly a decade since East Timor split away from neighboring Indonesia, which had occupied the tiny, oil-rich country since 1975. A joint Australian-New Zealand peacekeeping battalion works with a U.N. police contingent to patrol East Timor and train up a new native police force. As security improves, the Aussies have trimmed their nearly 1,000 troops to just 400. New Zealand has 150 troops in the country.
Timor saw its first presidential election in 2007. A year later, rebels led by former police officer Alfredo Reinado shot and nearly killed new president Jose Ramos-Horta. Reinado died in the assault. Aussie, New Zealand and Timorese troops mopped up Reinado’s remaining supporters and a measure of peace returned to the impoverished country, one of the world’s poorest. Tensions continue between East Timor and Australia as the two countries sort out access to oil reserves off the Timorese coast, but violence is at a new low.
The Australian withdrawal could spell the beginning of the end of a unique period in that country’s military history. Three years ago marked a recent high point in Australian military deployments. There were Aussie troops in Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan. The Aussies are out of Iraq, and could leave both East Timor and Afghanistan in a year’s time.
(Photo: David Axe)