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Last Updated: Monday, 13 June, 2005, 06:47 GMT 07:47 UK
Australian forces leaving E Timor
By Phil Mercer
BBC News, Sydney

Australian troops
Australian troops were deployed after East Timor's vote for independence
Australia has marked the final withdrawal of its peacekeeping troops from East Timor.

It brings to an end a fraught, six-year mission that led to strained relations between Canberra and Indonesia.

A handful of Australian troops will remain in the country to help train the East Timorese army under a separate defence agreement.

The deployment back in 1999 was one of Australia's biggest military operations since the Vietnam War.

About 5,000 troops were sent in, amid the chaos and violence that accompanied East Timor's vote for independence from Indonesia.

Relations between Canberra and Jakarta suffered greatly as a result.

Some of that ill-feeling still lingers, despite a vast improvement in the way the two countries now deal with each other.

Immense challenges

In a symbolic ceremony on Monday, peacekeepers handed over an army base at the small town of Moleana on the border with West Timor.

Australian military commanders have said their forces should be proud of what they have achieved during their mission.

One senior officer said the tiny country was now in a position where it could grow and prosper.

The East Timorese however face immense challenges, both economic and social.

Australia and East Timor are trying to resolve a long-running dispute over lucrative oil and gas reserves.

A deal is reported to be within reach. It could be worth billions of dollars to East Timor, which remains one of the poorest countries in Asia.

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