INTERFET: Reflections on the 1999 East Timor Crisis

Following the vote in favour of self-determination in 1999 chaos engulfed East Timor. Dozens of buildings burned, thousands of people were displaced from their homes and some were injured or killed. World-wide outrage denounced the horror and demanded “something must be done!” Within days a UN mandated Australian-led multi-national force named ‘INTERFET’ (International Force East Timor) arrived on 20 September 1999 with Indonesian agreement and support to restore security and order.

What was the crisis and how did it come about? What events led to it? What factors were influencing events? What did INTERFET achieve or fail to achieve? How did the crisis impact on relationships in the region in the short and longer term? What can the INTERFET experience teach us for the future?

On the 15th Anniversary of the 1999 crisis in East Timor – this two-day international conference will initiate the process of examining these and other questions. The aim of the conference is to write into the public record different perspectives and responses to the long dormant questions for the benefit and further development of history and scholarship.

In the absence of an Australian official history, and with relations between Indonesia, Australia and Timor Leste in need of greater understanding and enrichment, key participants in the events of that period are gathering together at the prestigious RACV Club in Melbourne on 20 and 21 September 2014 to reflect on the significance of INTERFET then and since.

Military History and Heritage Victoria in partnership with the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the ANU have gathered an impressive array of speakers – most of whom were involved first hand at the international, national and operational levels.

The two keynote speakers are His Excellency the Prime Minister of Timor Leste, Xanana Gusmao, and His Excellency General the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia (the former Commander of INTERFET).

The international panel of distinguished speakers includes Lieutenant General Kiki Syahnakri (Retired) who was the Indonesian Martial Law Administrator at the time of the crisis, and author of Timor Timur: The Untold Story; Major General Orlando Ambrocio (Retired) who was the Commander of the Philippines Humanitarian Support Mission to East Timor; Colonel Kevin Burnett, ONZM (Retired), former Commanding Officer the 1 RNZIR Battalion Group; and Major General Surasit Thanadtang.

Speakers from the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the ANU include Admiral Chris Barrie (Retired), former Chief of the Australian Defence Force, and Doctor John Blaxland, former Intelligence Officer for West Force, INTERFET.

Doctor Blaxland, whose recently published book The Australian Army from Whitlam to Howard included a chapter on INTERFET, will edit the conference proceedings for publication. Doctor John Blaxland said that “the conference is even more important given the absence of an official Australian history for INTERFET.”

Lieutenant General Ash Power, AO, CSC (Retired), former Colonel Operations INTERFET; Lieutenant General Mark Evans, AO DSC (Retired), former Commander WESTFOR, INTERFET; Brigadier Jeff Wilkinson, AM (Retired), former Commander Logistic Support Force; Professor Damien Kingsbury, author of East Timor: The Price of Liberty; and Associate Professor Bob Breen, author of Mission Accomplished, East Timor: The ADF Participation in INTERFET will also be speaking at the Conference.

Associate Professor Bob Breen acknowledged that much additional information had come to light over the past 14 years that warranted a review of events, causation and unintended consequences surrounding INTERFET. “It’s important to get the benefit of time and the perspectives of different stakeholders to get a holistic understanding of these historic events” said Professor Breen.

The Conference will be held in the prestigious Pavilion Room at the RACV Club in Melbourne on Saturday 20 and Sunday 21 September 2014.

The full Conference Program is available here.

The Conference ticket pricing is as follows:

MHHV Member An individual or organisation member of MHHV Inc.                 $150.00

General Admission Not a member of MHHV Inc. or a concession card holder   $190.00

Concession Card Holder Must produce concession card on registration            $110.00

The ticket price includes morning tea, buffet lunch, afternoon tea and complimentary Wi-Fi on both days of the Conference. Registrations are now closed

The 15th Anniversary Commemorative Dinner will also be held in the Pavilion Room at the RACV Club commencing at 7 p.m. on Saturday 20 September 2014. The $125 per person ticket includes a three course plated dinner and a four hour beverage package. The dress for the Dinner is black tie with decorations and orders/miniature medals for gentlemen and evening gown for ladies. The Dinner speaker has not yet been confirmed.

Car parking and accommodation are available at the RACV Club. For details please contact the RACV Club directly on (03) 9944 8888 and mention that you are a delegate for the Conference to receive special rates.

If you are a corporation interested in sponsoring this event please contact Marcus Fielding on 0418 418 122 or

Event Refund Policy: Conference speakers have committed to this event in good faith and delegates must recognise that some speakers are high profile individuals with many potentially competing demands. To this end, all bookings are final and non-refundable irrespective of any necessary changes to the speaker program.


Contact Military History and Heritage Victoria about this article.

Subscribe to our FREE MHHV newsletter here

We are proud to have the support of the following organisations: