The Indonesian invasion of the former Portuguese colony of East Timor in 1975 was opposed by a coalition of local nationalist groups who engaged in armed resistance. Many people fled to Australia as refugees. Following years of turmoil and after direct urging from the Howard Government, President BJ Habibie offered the East Timorese self-determination. The United Nations Mission in East Timor (UNAMET) would ensure voting was free and fair. On 30 August 1999, the East Timorese people declared their overwhelming support for independence. Violence initiated by pro-Jakarta militias produced a humanitarian crisis. Xanana Gusmão, former guerrilla leader and independence advocate, called for international military forces to restore order. The UN accepted Australias offer to lead what became the International Force East Timor (INTERFET) consisting of 22 nations. On 20 September the first elements of the largest Australian deployment since the Vietnam War arrived in the East Timorese capital, Dili. More than 5,500 uniformed men and women were involved in the intervention and many thousands more were to follow over the ensuing three years. On 28 February 2000, INTERFET was dissolved and the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) assumed complete responsibility for peacekeeping operations and civil affairs. The Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste was inaugurated on 20 May 2002.
Professor Tom Frame AM is Director of the Public Leadership Research Group at UNSW Canberra and the Howard Library at Old Parliament House. A former naval officer and Bishop to the Australian Defence Force, he is the author or editor of more than 50 books including Living by the Sword: the ethics of armed intervention, On Ops: Lessons and Challenges for the Australian Army Since East Timor (with Albert Palazzo), The Long Road: Australias Train, Advise and Assist Missions and a four-volume series on the Howard Government. He went to East Timor in 2001.