More than 150 Australian veterans returned to Dili for the 20th anniversary of the International Forces East Timor (INTERFET) mission.

Veterans who put boots on the ground between 1999 and 2000 in Timor-Leste paticipated in the commemorative ceremony on September 20 at the Palacio do Governo, followed by an Official Parade of Remembrance to the Dili Convention Centre.

Michael Williams, a former forward observers assistant to Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment on the INTERFET mission in 1999, said he had enjoyed returning to Timor-Leste.

“It’s amazing to see how the country has re-established itself and the amazing generosity that the Timorese people have shown to us after coming back 20 years later,” Mr Williams said.

“Twenty years ago Dili was a vastly different place, the buildings had been destroyed and it’s good to see how far they have come. It was one thing I wanted to see coming back.”

“That time in your history was never about 22 nations, just about one nation, Timor-Leste."

INTERFET Commander, former Governor-General of Australia Sir Peter Cosgrove, addressed the commemorative ceremony at the Palacio do Governo.

“In INTERFET and all over the world, we saw what you had endured over many weeks in 1999,” Sir Peter said.

“Mob violence, fire, destruction and death.

“Our hearts were sad, our sense of decency outraged. We wanted to help.

“Many of our young soldiers, the first from INTERFET’s 22 nations, were anxious, alarmed by what they had seen.

“They fell back on their training, their pride in their training, their pride in their nations, their trust in their comrades.

“My thanks again to them all, to all of their nations.”

Sir Peter also thanked the people of Timor-Leste for their acceptance and for embracing the soldiers 20 years ago during the INTERFET mission.

“That time in your history was never about 22 nations, just about one nation, Timor-Leste.

“May I say, on behalf of the 11,500 men and women of INTERFET, to the people of Timor-Leste, we saw your suffering but we saw your courage. We came to help you but you inspired us all.

“Twenty years later, we have returned happy to be here to wish you well and to thank you for the honour you do us now.”

Among those attending the commemorations in Dili were the Minister for Defence, Linda Reynolds, the Minister for Veterans Affairs’ and Defence Personnel, Darren Chester, Chief of Navy Vice Admiral Michael Noonan, Commander 1st Division Major General Jake Ellwood and members of the Australian Federal Police.