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NZ pulls out of Timor-Leste

Monday 5 Nov 2012 6:06 a.m.

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By Brook Sabin

The New Zealand Defence Force is pulling out of its longest operation since the Vietnam War.

Timor-Leste, formerly known as East Timor, has been the scene of murder, riots and violence for more than a decade, but the decision has been made for New Zealand to leave.

Lieutenant Colonel Steve Watts says the country has changed a lot since 1999 when the New Zealand troops were first deployed there, amid hundreds of thousands of refugees.

“Now you see a very calm, stable environment,” he says. “People are going about their day-to-day business as you would see in New Zealand.”

Now, after successful local elections, the threat is gone.

Soldiers are no longer armed, as there is no need to be.

“We have a stable country, a neighbour of ours that is stable, that has growth and is looking forward to a better future,” Lt Col Watts says.

But New Zealand’s deployment in Timor-Leste has come at a big cost with hundreds of millions of dollars spent and five lives lost.

But for the Timorese, that sacrifice has led to freedom.

“They don't need people to tell them what to do now, they need to go ahead and do it for themselves,” New Zealand Major Tim Tuatini says.

But local doctor Dr Dan Murphy, one of the few Westerners who has been in Timor since the chaos began, isn't so sure.

“I would say things could easily fall again, and that's from experience of living here this long.”

New Zealand soldiers will fly home within a week.

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