Following a democratic election voting for independence, East Timor was subjected to violence and heavy reprisal from the Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI) and pro-Indonesia militia groups. The violence began on 30 August 1999. The Indonesian government was initially reluctant to accept outside help but relented on 12 September. On 15 September the United Nations (UN) authorised the establishment of a multinational peace enforcement force. It was named the International Force East Timor (Interfet) and was led by Australia. Its role was to restore peace and security, support other UN forces, and facilitate humanitarian assistance, where possible.

The 5th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (5RAR), was raised at Holsworthy Barracks in Sydney on 1 March 1965. The 7th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (7RAR) was raised on 1 September 1965 at Puckapunyal in Victoria. 7RAR was linked with 5RAR at the Tobruk lines at Holsworthy on 3 December 1973. It was renamed 5/7RAR and began its transformation to a mechanised unit in 1976.

5/7RAR arrived in Dili on 10 October, replacing 3RAR. As a mechanised unit, the battalion came with enough personnel carriers to carry the entire battalion. It was primarily engaged in searching buildings, finding and disarming militia, and gathering intelligence from locals. The battalion also helped to locate and distribute supplies. While carrying out these tasks soldiers found evidence of atrocities. One of the more gruesome tasks carried out by the battalion was the recovery and burial of bodies, sometimes as isolated incidences and also mass graves from massacres.

On 23 October 5/7RAR coordinated the security for freedom leader Xanana Gusmão’s release from Indonesian custody and public address in Dili.

In late October a platoon from 5/7RAR and Gurkahs arrived in Oecusse, unopposed with four personnel carriers. The remainder of 5/7RAR remained in Dili until the end of 1999, when it handed over to contingents from Kenya and Italy. In January 2000 the battalion replaced 2RAR on the northern border. 5/7RAR worked to create a feeling of peace in the area and defences were scaled down as the threat from militia decreased.

On 23 February 2000 Interfet formally handed over to United Nations Transition Assistance - East Timor (UNTAET). 5/7RAR was transferred into UNTAET and continued to operate along the border. With the changeover, East Timor was divided into four operational sectors. The Australian and New Zealand troops were responsible for Sector West, which experienced the highest incidence of infiltration by the Indonesians.

The battalion was replaced by 6RAR on 1 May 2000.

Battle Honours

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Commanding Officers

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  • "5/7 in Timor: UN Blue 5/7RAR in East Timor"
  • Breen, Bob, Mission accomplished, East Timor : the Australian Defence Force participation in the International Forces East Timor (INTERFET), (St. Leonards, N.S.W.: Allen & Unwin, 2000)
  • Londey, Peter, Other people's wars: a history of Australian peacekeeping, (2003)