Australia withdrew its last remaining police officers from East Timor as international forces wind up a 13-yearpresence in Asia’s youngest nation, where thousands have died in political turmoil.
The eight Australian officers serving with the UN Police boarded a Darwin-bound plane from the capital Dili as the United Nations prepares to officially end its peacekeeping mission by December 31.
International forces began pulling out in earnest in October, when the UN handed policing responsibility back to the nation which recently celebrated a decade of formal independence that ended Indonesia’s 24-year occupation.
Australian police commander for the mission Charmaine Quade expressed confidence East Timor could handle its own security after successful national elections this year and the formation of a new government.
“Australian police have been there to contribute to the enhancement and professionalisation of the Timor-Leste police, and the competence the national police here have shown is testament to how far they’ve come,” she said.
The move comes after the Australian-led International Stabilisation Force (ISF) ceased its security operations in November and began pulling out some of its 390 troops from the country.
Australia has stationed 50 police at a time in East Timor under the UN since 2006, with 33 deployed this year under a bilateral capacity-building programme.
International peacekeepers first entered the country in 1999 as deadly violence erupted around the country’s referendum for independence.
The vote ended Indonesia’s occupation, under which an estimated 183,000 people – then a quarter of the population – died from fighting, disease and starvation.
The only major violence in the impoverished half-island nation of 1.1 million people since has been a failed assassination attempt against then-president Jose Ramos-Horta and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao in 2008.
Quade said the last batch of Australian police to leave East Timor, also known as Timor-Leste, were “looking forward to being reunited with their loved ones”.
“They’ve been able to fully focus on their roles and duties here with the UN because they’ve had that support and understanding at home.”