International Force in East Timor (INTERFET)

International Information

International Operation Name: International Force in East Timor

International Mission Name: International Force in East Timor (INTERFET)

Mandating Organization: United Nations

Region Name: Asia

Location: East Timor

Mission Date: 15 September 1999 - 23 February 2000

Mission Mandate: United Nations Security Council Resolution 1264 (15 September 1999)

Mission/Operation Notes: The Dutch and the Portuguese colonized the island of Timor in the 18th century, the Dutch claiming the western portion, and the Portuguese claiming the eastern. After the Second World War, the Dutch portion was incorporated into Indonesia, as part of the Netherlands’ decolonization process. Portuguese Timor remained a colony until 1975.

In April 1974, the dictatorship of Marcello Caetano was overthrown in a peaceful revolution in Portugal. Fearing potential political instability in its neighbour, Indonesia became interested in Portuguese Timor. In late 1974, the Indonesian military launched Operation KOMODO, a covert operation to create the requisite conditions to enable Indonesia to incorporate East Timor. On 11 August 1975, Indonesian-backed forces staged a coup and took power from the Portuguese administration. Ignoring UN resolutions supporting the right of the East Timorese people to self-determination, Indonesia incorporated East Timor as its 27th province on 17 July 1976.

Indonesian rule was repressive. While human rights abuses were reported, the international community took little notice. The East Timorese diaspora worked hard to overcome this, led by the Roman Catholic Church in East Timor. Within the country, resistance forces suffered from division through the 1980s, and from a lack of foreign support. In April 1998, Xanana Gusmao brought together the various nationalist and resistance forces into one organization, the National Council of Timorese Resistance (CNRT). A unified voice and increasing international attention helped bring the East Timor situation to the fore in the mid-1990s.

In February 1997, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan appointed Jamsheed Marker, a diplomat from Pakistan, as his personal representative for East Timor. Progress was soon made in reaching a deal with the Indonesian government. The breakthrough occurred on 27 January 1999 when Indonesian President B.J. Habibie announced he would support a referendum for East Timor. An agreement was signed between Indonesia, Portugal and the UN on 5 May, which created a timeline for a referendum on independence and specified that Indonesia would be responsible for providing security and maintaining the peace. The latter was Indonesia’s precondition to moving forward with the vote. The Security Council approved Resolution 1246 on 11 June, creating the United Nations Mission in East Timor (UNAMET) to supervise the referendum.

All was not as peaceful as it seemed, however. The Indonesian military had been arming the Indonesian-backed East Timor militias as well as civilian volunteers. In part, this was a response to the continued guerrilla attacks from Falintil, the military arm of the CRNT. It was also an attempt to intimidate Timorese voters to not vote or to vote against independence.

On 30 August 1999, over 98 percent of eligible voters participated in the referendum, over 78 percent voting for independence. The anti-independence militias took this as their signal to begin a systematic campaign of destruction and terror. Entire villages were destroyed, while all buildings in the East Timorese enclave of Oecussi (situated along the north coast of West Timor) were razed. Over 8000 were killed and entire populations displaced. The Indonesian authorities and the militias transported more than 250,000 people into West Timor, many against their will. UN estimates indicated that 750,000 people, out of a population of 880,000 were internally displaced or forced into West Timor. UNAMET personnel were also targeted, with most evacuating to Darwin, Australia.

A UN special mission sent to East Timor concluded that Indonesia was responsible for the violence. Succumbing to international pressure, Indonesian President Habibie invited the UN on 12 September to send an international force to restore peace. Reacting quickly to the violence, the UN Security Council authorized one of the most strongly-worded mandates ever produced. Resolution 1264 of 15 September created the International Force for East Timor (INTERFET) under Chapter VII, allowing it to use “all necessary measures”. INTERFET had three roles: 1- to restore peace and security, 2- to protect and support UNAMET in carrying out its tasks and 3- to assist in humanitarian operations within force capabilities. While still in the planning stages, Australia had agreed to be the prime backer of INTERFET.

The first INTERFET forces arrived in Dili, the capital of East Timor, on 20 September. By the end of the month more than 4,000 troops were deployed, with 8,200 by 1 November. INTERFET initially deployed to a few key locations, and then spread out its operations from each of these. The goal was to create areas of stability and then expand upon these until the entire country was covered.

INTERFET quickly established a secure environment into which humanitarian aid could be flown. The troops gained access to remote and hard-to-reach areas, identifying the humanitarian needs in each. In many cases, it was INTERFET that provided the initial humanitarian aid as it deployed, to be followed by relief agencies. INTERFET also provided the initial response in rebuilding critical infrastructure, for instance rebuilding roads to allow humanitarian aid to move by truck instead of having to be air-dropped. INTERFET military medical teams also provided health services to the general population along with 16 other international organizations.

Another INTERFET role was arrest and detention, but this was turned over to UN Civilian Police (UNCP) and the East Timorese judiciary in mid-January 2000. INTERFET forces also supported UNCP in restoring order after unrests in late December and early January. This included conducting increased patrols in Dili and Baucau after incidents there.

With INTERFET effectively restoring order to East Timor, the UN recognized that a much larger operation than UNAMET was required to assist East Timor in becoming a functioning state. Accordingly, the Security Council approved a new plan on 25 October, creating the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET). One of UNTAET’s three components was a peacekeeping force (UN PKF). The UN PKF was required due to UN estimates of over 1000 hard-core militants still being present in West Timor. The transition from INTERFET to the UN PKF started on 1 February and was completed on the 23rd. Although similar in structure and combat capability, the UN PKF had a different mandate. Seventy percent of the INTERFET forces remained in East Timor and transitioned to the UN PKF.

Canadian Forces (CF) Information (TOUCAN)


Date: 20 September 1999 - 23 February 2000

Canadian Task Force Name Mission Statement: The Security Council authorized (S/RES/1264) the multinational force (INTERFET) under a unified command structure headed by Australia to restore peace and security in East Timor, to protect and support UNAMET in carrying out its tasks and, within force capabilities, to facilitate humanitarian assistance operations.

CF Mission/Operation Notes: Canada’s contribution to INTERFET began on 12 September when the Prime Minister announced that Canada would send up to 600 troops to support the Australian-led force. This caught the Canadian Forces by surprise, resulting in some scrambling to determine what type of contribution Canada could make. Minister of National Defence Art Eggleton indicated after a 14 September Cabinet meeting that the CF, although stretched because of other international commitments, would probably send a 250 person infantry company, two CC-130 Hercules transports and a replenishment ship.

HMCS Protecteur departed Esquimalt on 23 September with a Sea King helicopter from 443 Squadron. The ship arrived off East Timor in late October, remaining in theatre until 26 January 2000. During this period, Protecteur served as a floating supply base for the coalition forces ashore and as an alternate command and control platform for the Canadian Joint Force Commander. The Sea King was employed in a transport role, carrying or slinging supplies ashore. The sailors aboard the ship also participated in several humanitarian projects, including the reconstruction of several schools.

The two Hercules transport aircraft from 436 Squadron left Trenton on 20 September. One aircraft had repeated technical problems that prevented it from leaving Canada for a week. The resulting media frenzy suggested that the Hercules were too old for this type of mission. The tactical airlift detachment arrived in Townsville, Australia on the 21st, arriving after a CC-150 Polaris flight of 28 hours. Once accommodations were available in Darwin, the 103 members of the tactical airlift detachment moved to the Royal Australian Air Force facility at that location.

A recce party departed for East Timor on 25 September, with the advance party arriving two days later. The first mission was flown on the 28th. From Darwin and Townsville, the Hercules flew into the East Timorese cities of Dili, Baucau and Suai. Despite the initial problems getting to East Timor, the Hercules performed flawlessly once in theatre. A three-crew maintenance schedule allowed 24-hour seven days a week maintenance to be carried out on the aircraft, and as with any coalition operation there was mutual support and the sharing of parts and expertise between the various nations. On 6 December the aircraft and detachment returned to Canada. Over the course of operation, they flew 130 missions, carrying 2100 passengers and more than 1000 tons of supplies.

A further air force contribution was made in the form of monthly CC-150 Polaris resupply flights. These brought parts, mail and other materiel required by the Canadian contingent. The construction engineering contingent and the soldiers of the Royal 22e Regiment all flew over on these flights.

Because of the wholesale destruction of buildings in East Timor, a construction element was required to build facilities for the Canadians ashore. A Works and Design Squadron was created from elements of 1 Engineering Support Unit, Naval Construction Team (Pacific) supported by some personnel from NCT (Atlantic) and Fleet Construction Engineering Office Halifax. The lead element departed for Darwin on 14 October, followed by the main party on 24 October. They began construction of the Canadian camp at Zumalai on 6 November, finishing on 13 December. Construction of the accommodations had to be quickly completed before the onset of the monsoon season. This required an elevated building that was well-sealed to prevent mosquitoes from entering. Some personnel remained in Darwin to coordinate the procurement and delivery of construction materiel to East Timor.

The 3e bataillon, Royal 22e Regiment provided a 250-man contingent to Op Toucan. They arrived in Australia on 15 October, where they conducted training with the 1st Battalion Royal New Zealand Regiment to whom they would be attached. They landed near the town of Suai on 28 October after being transported by the Australian assault ship HMAS Tobruk. The main role of the soldiers was to patrol a large territory from Ainaro in the east to Suai in the west.

In addition to their regular patrols, the Vandoos also repaired a school and hospital in Zumalai, distributed basic sanitation needs, clothing and containers, and taught some English. When INTERFET personnel were transferred to UNTAET, the Vandoos became the only Canadian contribution to INTERFET that made the transition, as all the other units had departed by this time.


Description: (Center left, with scissors) LCol Chris Colton and (center right, holding tape) Capt(N) Roger Girouard cut the ribbon to officially open Camp Two Can Do, the air force contingent of Op TOUCAN, Canadian component of UNAMET, United Nations Mission in East Timor. Watching are various personnel from 8 Wing Trenton, the major contributor to the air component.

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