Veterans return to Timor-Leste for INTERFET 25th anniversary.

19 April 2024

A group of 31 Aussie and Kiwi Timor-Leste veterans and support staff will soon return to Timor-Leste for Anzac Day 2024.

Their return, organised by the Brisbane-based wellness program Timor Awakening, is a journey of reflection and remembrance, and is testament to the bonds between Australia, New Zealand, and Timor-Leste veterans.

The visit is even more special this year as it coincides with the 25th anniversary year of the International Force East Timor (INTERFET) peace-making operation, which followed the UNAMET observer mission overseeing Timor-Leste’s vote for independence.

A highlight will be a public Anzac Day ceremony in Dili at the Timorese Council of National Liberation Combatants Headquarters.

‘I’m experiencing a mix of emotions as I prepare to return to Timor-Leste,’ said RAAF veteran Nicole Stubbs.

‘There’s a sense of nervousness as I anticipate witnessing the changes in the country and holding high expectations for its progress.

‘One of the most cherished aspects of my experience was traveling to remote communities across the country and encountering the radiant smiles of the Timor-Leste people.

‘Their unwavering courage and resilience were palpable, leaving a lasting impression on me. It was heartening to witness their optimism and determination amidst the challenges they faced.’

Australia’s involvement in East Timor, from 1999 to the end of 2012, was instrumental in that nation gaining independence. INTERFET, which deployed from 1999 to 2000, remains Australia’s largest peacekeeping mission to date, and the largest overseas military deployment since the Vietnam War. Furthermore, it was the first time Australia had led a major international coalition.

Timor Awakening is a peer-to-peer wellness program centred around an immersion in Timor-Leste, with Aussie, Kiwi and Timorese veterans coming together to help each other. It is an opportunity for participants to take pause, learn about themselves, be inspired, empowered, and take responsibility for a positive direction forward in life.

Army veteran Michael Stone, founder of Timor Awakening, said that for many, returning to Timor-Leste is a profound step in their journey of healing.

‘There are benefits for veterans returning to a former conflict zone, to experience places through a new perspective and reframe images, releasing trauma blocked inside,’ he said.

‘Returning to other conflict zones for contemporary veterans is not possible. Timor-Leste is a peaceful, welcoming, and spectacular country, only a one-hour flight from Darwin.

‘Veterans from all theatres of war and peacekeeping operations have found healing visiting Timor-Leste, a nation that embraced reconciliation and forgiveness as the practical way forward.’

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