Today I concluded my visit to Timor-Leste. This was my second visit to Timor-Leste as the Minister for Defence, and my third as an Australian Government Minister.
My visit comes just a week after the successful conclusion of the Australian Defence Force’s (ADF) Operation ASTUTE on 27 March.
Operation ASTUTE was the ADF’s contribution to the maintenance of peace and stability in Timor-Leste, particularly through the United Nations mandated Australian-led International Stabilisation Force (ISF).
The ISF, which had supported peace and stability in Timor-Leste since 2006, ceased security operations and commenced its withdrawal from Timor-Leste on 22 November 2012. The conclusion of Operation ASTUTE last week also marked the end of the ISF.
My visit was a timely opportunity to meet with Timorese leaders to discuss the future of the defence relationship between our two countries.
While in Dili I met with President Taur Matan Ruak, whom I had previously met in his former role as the Chief of the Timor-Leste Defence Force.
We agreed on the importance of continuing to maintain and strengthen the close defence-to-defence, and military-to-military relationship that has developed between our two countries since Timor-Leste’s independence.
Australia’s close defence engagement with Timor-Leste continues through our Defence Cooperation Program (DCP), which provides support to the Timor-Leste Defence Force and the civilian Secretariat of Defence through mentoring, infrastructure development, training and exercises.
I also met with Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, who was accompanied by the Chief of the Defence Force, Major General Lere, and the Secretary of State for Defence, Dr Pinto.
During our meeting, Prime Minister Gusmao and I reaffirmed our commitment to finalising a Defence Cooperation Agreement between Australia and Timor-Leste.
The Agreement will formalise our bilateral defence relationship and strengthen the administrative and legal arrangements that underpin our defence cooperation. This will provide a firm basis for the conduct of future defence cooperation activities between the ADF and Timor-Leste Defence Forces.
I also met with Foreign Minister Guterres to discuss the future role of the international community in Timor-Leste, and to exchange views on regional and international strategic developments.
I took the opportunity to reaffirm to Minister Guterres that Australia strongly supports Timor-Leste’s aspiration to become a member of ASEAN.
ASEAN, along with the ASEAN Regional Forum and ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus, is an essential component of our region’s strategic, economic and security architecture. In recognition of this, the Australian Government will soon appoint a resident Jakarta-based Ambassador to ASEAN.
In addition, I met with Fretilin Secretary General Dr Alkatiri and former Foreign Minister da Costa to discuss the important economic and security gains that have been made in Timor-Leste.
During my visit, I also had the opportunity to meet with members of Australia’s DCP team to express my appreciation for the work they are doing to develop the capacity of the Timor-Leste Defence Force and the civilian Secretariat of Defence.
Minister Smith’s Office: Sacha Fenton 0467 784 528
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