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Friday 17 September 1999


Media Conference by the Chief of the Defence Force, Admiral Chris Barrie in Darwin - Thursday, September 16, 1999

Good morning ladies and gentlemen.

Now we have a mandate from the United Nations to mount operations I can talk in a little more detail about what we intend to do about the appalling events in East Timor.

For Australians, this is going to give us a real challenge - it will be THE most significant military undertaking we have had since World War II. In fact, it is also the most significant military undertaking to occur in our part of the world since the war, too.

We will be leading the multinational force. We expect to make the most substantial contribution, too. We are pleased to report that we are ready to support the Government, the people of Australia and the international community in this endeavour.

More importantly this is a tangible contribution we and our coalition partners are making to peace and stability in the Asia/Pacific region, at a time that represents a fundamental shift in strategic affairs in our region.

We are consulting closely with countries that have indicated their desire to take part in the mission.

The Vice Chief of the Defence Force, Air Marshal Doug Riding, is currently talking to our partners in Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia about the structure of the force at the moment.

Firm commitments have already been given by New Zealand, the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Portugal, France, Brazil and Italy.

The composition of the multinational force will be carefully planned to provide a balance of complementary capabilities and skills from all participants.

We will be relying on the US to provide strategic movement assets in addition to those of the ADF and other contributing nations, particularly for sustained deployment of heavier military equipment.

Final details of the specific contributions and when they will be deployed are still being negotiated at the military planning level.

I am not going to reveal the final deployment details. However, we intend to deploy 2000 Australian troops as soon as possible, in conjunction with some of our multinational partners.

Major General Peter Cosgrove will be the commander of the multinational force, which we have labelled the International Force East Timor - INTERFET. He is a very able and experienced commander, and I am confident able to deliver the results we want on the ground in East Timor.

INTERFET will stay in place until UNAMET Phase III takes over in due course. We are currently assisting the UN in this important planning.

Our Australian contribution will gradually increase to 4,500 military personnel after the initial deployment. This will place a heavy demand on the ADF in the long term but we are ready to meet that challenge too.

Our focus in the coming days and weeks will be on the specific mission the United Nations has given us.

We have been tasked to restore peace and security in East Timor.

Furthermore, we will protect and support UNAMET in carrying out its tasks.

We will also facilitate humanitarian assistance operations.

As you have seen in the last week, we have already been providing humanitarian assistance while planning and preparing for this peacekeeping mission.

The Royal Australian Air Force and the Royal New Zealand Air Force have airlifted a total of 2538 people evacuated from Dili on 28 flights. We are currently reviewing a request from AUSAID for humanitarian assistance on East Timor and intend to airdrop supplies later today.

We are also focused on planning to get aid effectively to those who need it most on the ground. The best way to do this will be to deploy as fast as we can.

While our aim is to relieve the suffering of the East Timorese people, this will need to be balanced with the making sure we can deploy a self contained force, able to provide its own security and that of the United Nations, so that we can quickly establish a stable situation with our coalition partners.

In East Timor there is clearly a great deal of work to be done to give a realisation to the will of the East Timorese people.

The success of this mission will rely very much on the cooperation of all the members of the multinational force. We will also expect a great deal of help from Indonesia.

I would like to emphasise that Indonesia is a country of enormous strategic importance to Australia. For the sake of long term regional stability we must always work hard to deal with Indonesia in a constructive way.

It is important to realise that while we are hearing a range of different views in Indonesia and the TNI, we strongly support the very courageous decisions made by President Habibie on behalf of his people, and the moves towards a democratic system in Indonesia.

We must not forget that much of what the ADF has been able to achieve so far in East Timor - for example getting Indonesian agreement to the air evacuations - and in some cases their acceptance has depended on the quality of the linkages between the Indonesian and Australian military.

So we will be working hard with our multinational partners and the legitimate institutions on the ground in East Timor to minimise the risks involved in this peacekeeping mission so that East Timor can transition to the independant state its people voted for.

It is only through increased communication and mutual understanding of all of our objectives and concerns that miscalculation can be reduced and opportunities provided to solve our problems. This must be done impartially with all parties.

But let us be under no misunderstanding - this will be a difficult and demanding task.

Its success will fundamentally rely on all parties, both in East Timor and Indonesia more broadly, to join with the international community to seek a long term and peaceful solution for the people of East Timor.

I know our own forces will do us proud; we have an adaptable, flexible force that has met the Government's expectations and priorities. I have no reservations about their state of training and readiness for the tasks that lie ahead.

We have an ADF that is able to move quickly to put in place and substantially contribute to the multinational force the United Nations requested.

Significantly, we have an ADF that has the comprehensive planning processes already in place from our reforms over the last few years to lead this mission and respond appropriately to this crisis.

Australia can be very proud of the ADF. While it is not a large force by world standards, it is highly respected for its professionalism, which has been proven by its good operational record.

The collective effort of our Navy, Army and Air Force has been superlative and demonstrates a very strong sense of service and commitment to do those things we know are right.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone in the ADF, every individual, and their families for the support and dedication they have provided, and I know, will go on providing.

I know that many other countries in our region are ready to join us and also prepared to make their contribution to make a difference and shape a better world.

Finally, there is much commentary in the media about how Australia may approach this operation. It is my view that Australia has a very strong character of fairness. This has driven our national approach to East Timor. It has driven our approach in other military operations around the world and in the past. It has and will underpin our approach to this military operation.

This will not change. It will be fundamental to success in East Timor.

I would be happy to take any questions.


Issued by the Defence Public Affairs Organisation, Department of Defence, Canberra, ACT, 2600

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