Perspectives: Jon Cattapan and eX de Medici
The Portuguese colony of East Timor (Timor–Leste) was invaded by Indonesia in 1975. After almost a quarter of a century of occupation characterised by violence in the territory, a new Indonesian government agreed to allow the East Timorese to vote on their future. A UN operation – the United Nations Mission in East Timor (Unamet) – was established to organise and conduct the referendum, which was held at the end of August 1999. It resulted in an overwhelming vote in favour of independence.
Tragically, once the result had been announced, pro-Indonesian militias launched a campaign of violence, looting, and arson throughout the entire territory. Many East Timorese were killed, and as many as 500,000 were displaced from their homes.
After several weeks of violence, Indonesia agreed to the deployment of a multinational peacekeeping force. Australia organised and led the International Force East Timor (Interfet), a non-UN force operating with a UN mandate, whose objective was to restore peace and security, protect and support Unamet, and facilitate humanitarian assistance. Australia contributed over 5,500 personnel to what was the nation’s largest overseas deployment since the Vietnam War.
On 19 October 1999 Indonesia formally recognised the referendum result. Shortly afterwards, the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (Untaet) was established as an integrated, multi-dimensional peacekeeping operation, fully responsible for the administration of East Timor during its transition to independence. Timor–Leste became a sovereign state on 20 May 2002, but has continued to receive assistance from the international community. At the request of the government of Timor-Leste Australia has continued to provide peacekeepers to assist in the maintenance of stability and the country’s development.
Peacekeeping and the Solomon Islands
The Solomon Islands gained independence in 1978, but over the next 20 years, the legacy of colonisation contributed to an increasingly unstable social, economic and political environment. Migration between island populations, land redistribution, and limited economic opportunities led to civil tension. This was made worse by foreign ownership of natural resources and the people’s lack of faith in a weak state administrative system vulnerable to corruption. Sporadic violence persisted, and in 1998 degenerated into civil war.
Engaged in the fighting were several militant groups, including the Isatabu Freedom Movement and the Malaita Eagle Force. Australia contributed to the International Peace Monitoring Team (IPMT), by sending personnel from the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the Department of Foreign Affairs, with support from the ADF. However, their presence did not quell the civil unrest and in 2003 the Solomon Islands government requested regional support.
An Australian-led peacekeeping operation, the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (Ramsi), was formed from 15 Pacific nations. It includes a multinational Participating Police Force (PPF) and a military component (the Combined Task Force), with Australia, New Zealand, Tonga, and Papua New Guinea currently contributing troops. The ADF component within Ramsi is called Operation Anode, although the multinational task force is referred to as Operation Helpem Fren (pidgin for “help a friend”). Its primary task is to provide support to the PPF, and to maintain law and order. The situation has improved since the arrival of Ramsi, but further violence after the 2006 election shows the continuing fragility of the Solomon Islands.