Private Leonard Manning became New Zealand’s first combat death since the Vietnam War. Manning was part of New Zealand’s contribution to the United Nations (UN) peacekeeping force in the fledgling nation of Timor-Leste (East Timor).
Manning’s patrol was ambushed by pro-Indonesian militiamen near the peak of Foho Debululik, a steep hill close to the border with West Timor. The New Zealanders were patrolling that area as part of their peacekeeping duties. The ambush became the subject of a military Court of Inquiry and an Indonesian murder trial. Indonesian judges sentenced Manning’s killer to six years’ imprisonment.
The Portuguese colony of East Timor had unilaterally declared itself independent in November 1975. It was invaded and occupied by Indonesian forces within weeks and in July 1976 was declared the 27th province of Indonesia. An independence movement continued to resist and many thousands of Timorese were killed.
A UN-supervised referendum in August 1999 saw 78.5% of East Timorese voters choose independence. Elements within the Indonesian military and pro-Indonesian Timorese militias reacted to the referendum result with violence. Houses and buildings were destroyed, and some 200,000 refugees were forced across the border into Indonesian West Timor.
With the arrival of a UN peacekeeping force, the militias fled across the border into West Timor, from where they launched sporadic armed raids. It was one of these raids that led to the death of Leonard Manning. Two other New Zealand servicemen were killed in accidents while serving in East Timor.