Prior to August 1999, not many people in Singapore were aware of the daily affairs of East Timor. Few had even heard of its name, or knew exactly where it was. Although it is one our regional neighbors in the Indonesian archipelago, to some, it was as surreal and as far fetched as El Dorado, Constantinople and the Roman Empire.
It suddenly became a reality in August 1999. The 24-year old governance of East Timor, now known as Timor Leste, under Indonesia was coming to an end with the United Nations (UN) supervised national referendum to determine the future of its people. It was no surprise when the majority voted favorably for independence. But instead of a smooth transition to the formation of a new nation, violent clashes between the two opposing factions followed, resulting in chaos and destruction in Dili, its capital, and in many other regions in East Timor. Suddenly, East Timor became the focus of the world.
A coalition force headed by the Australian Defence Force, landed in Dili to restore order in the devastated island. This UN endorsed peace enforcement force, known as INTERFET (International Force East Timor), and its green flag with the white dove of peace emblem was quickly seen to win the hearts of the East Timorese. Singapore reacted quickly. Within days of the turmoil, plans were developed to deploy a medical team comprised of 2 Medical officers and 10 Medics to support INTERFET. The medical team that was being configured was modeled as a level 1 medical disaster relief team capable of providing own security, mobility and train to carried fire arms for self protection. It was a clear demonstration of our readiness and determination. This signaled the start of the Medical Corps' unprecedented four years of involvement from Oct 99 to Oct 03 in peace support/peace keeping operations under UN in East Timor. In all Medical Corps deployed 9 x Level 1 medical teams to support the Australian Level 3 Military Hospital in Dili, 3 x medical teams to support the SAF Platoon Task Force and 2 x medical teams to support the SAF Company Task Force that were deployed in Suai and Forherem in Timor Leste.
Hundreds of medical personnel, from all ranks and background spent a part of their lives on that island and many more made their contributions from Singapore. Whichever roles we played, no matter how big or small the responsibility was, this entire mission has left an eternal mark, in all our hearts and minds.