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East Timor

The Democratic Republic of East Timor, also known officially as Timor Leste is a nation in Southeast Asia, consisting of the eastern half of the island of Timor, the nearby islands of Atauro and Jaco , and Oecussi-Ambeno, a political exclave of East Timor situated on the western side of the island, surrounded by West Timor.

Formerly Portuguese Timor, East Timor became a province of Indonesia on July 1976, following the first popular referendum. After the UN-sponsored second referendum on 30 August 1999, it relinquished control of the territory, which achieved full independence on May 20, 2002.

It is one of only two majority Roman Catholic countries in Asia, the other being the Philippines.




Main article: History of East Timor

The Portuguese were the first Europeans to arrive in the area in the 16th century and they established an isolated presence on the island of Timor, while the surrounding islands came under Dutch control.

The process of decolonisation in the then Portuguese Timor began in 1974, following the change of government in Portugal in the wake of the Carnation Revolution. Owing to political instability and more pressing concerns with decolonisation in Angola and Mozambique, Lisbon effectively abandoned East Timor, which unilaterally declared itself independent on November 28, 1975. Nine days later, it was invaded and occupied by Indonesian forces before this could be internationally recognised.

Indonesia alleged that the popular East Timorese FRETILIN party, which received some vocal support from the People's Republic of China, was communist. With the American cause in South Vietnam lost and fearing a Communist domino effect in Southeast Asia, the U.S., along with ally Australia, did not object to the pro-Western Indonesian government's actions.

The day before the invasion and subsequent annexation, U.S. President Gerald Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger had met with President Suharto in Jakarta where Ford made clear that "we will not press you on the issue." Several U.S. administrations up to and including that of Bill Clinton did not ban arms sales to the Indonesian government, though the latter did eventually end U.S. support of Suharto's regime. The territory was subsequently declared the 27th province of Indonesia in July 1976 as Timor Timur. However, internationally, its legal status was that of a "non-self governing territory under Portuguese administration."

Indonesian rule in East Timor was marked by extreme violence and brutality. During the invasion and 27-year occupation, an estimated 100,000 to 250,000 people were killed in an initial population of about 600,000 at the time of the invasion. On August 30, 1999, in a United Nations-supervised popular referendum, the East Timorese voted for full independence from Indonesia, but violent clashes, instigated primarily by anti-independence militias (aided by elements of the Indonesian military, see Scorched Earth Operation), broke out soon afterwards. Peacekeepers led by Australia were brought in to restore order. These were later replaced by UN forces.

Independence was internationally recognised on May 20, 2002 and East Timor joined the UN on September 27 of that year.

See also: UN Transitional Administration in East Timor


Main article: Politics of East Timor

Head of state of the East Timorese republic is the president, who is elected by popular vote for a five-year term and whose role is largely symbolic, though he is able to veto some legislation. Following legislative elections, the president appoints as prime minister the leader of the majority party or majority coalition. As head of government the prime minister presides over the Council of State or cabinet.

The unicameral Timorese parliament is the National Parliament or Parlamento Nacional, whose members are also elected by popular vote to a five-year term. The number of seats can vary from a minimum of 52 to a maximum of 65, though it exceptionally has 88 members at present, due to this being its first term of office. The Timorese constitution was modelled on that of Portugal. The country is still in the process of building its administration and governmental institutions.


Main article: Districts of East Timor

East Timor is subdivided into 13 administrative districts:


Main article: Geography of East Timor

Timor is the Malay word for "Orient" and the island of Timor is part of the Indonesian archipelago and the largest and easternmost of the Lesser Sunda Islands. To the north of the mountainous island is found the Ombai Strait and Wetar Strait, to the south the Timor Sea separates the island from Australia, while to the west lies the Indonesian Province of East Nusa Tenggara. The highest point of East Timor is Mount Tatamailau at 2,963 m.

The local climate is tropical and generally hot and humid, characterised by distinct rainy and dry seasons. The capital, largest city and main port of East Timor is Dili, and the second-largest is the eastern town of Baucau. Dili has the only functioning international airport, though there is an airstrip in Baucau used for domestic flights.


Main article: Economy of East Timor

Prior to and during colonisation Timor was best known for its sandalwood. In late 1999, about 70% of the economic infrastructure of East Timor was laid waste by Indonesian troops and anti-independence militias, and 260,000 people fled westward. Over the next three years, however, a massive international program led by the UN, manned by civilian advisers, 5,000 peacekeepers (8,000 at peak) and 1,300 police officers, led to substantial reconstruction in both urban and rural areas. By mid-2002, all but about 50,000 of the refugees had returned. This successful UN effort was headed by Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Sérgio Vieira de Mello, later to become High Commissioner for Human Rights and who was tragically killed in Baghdad in August 2003.

The country faces great challenges in continuing the rebuilding of infrastructure and the strengthening of the infant civil administration. One promising long-term project is the joint development with Australia of oil and natural gas resources in the southeastern waters off Timor, a location which became known as the Timor gap , following the signing by Australia and Indonesia of the 'Timor Gap Treaty' when East Timor was still under Indonesian occupation. Timor inherited no permanent maritime boundaries when it attained independence, and the Government of East Timor is seeking to negotiate a boundary with Australia to a point halfway between it and Australia. As at May 2004, the Government of Australia wanted to establish the boundary at the end of the Australian continental shelf. Normally a maritime dispute such as this could be referred to the International Court of Justice or the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea for an impartial decision. However Australia withdrew from these organisations when it realised that East Timor might invoke these dispute resolution mechanisms. Many advocacy groups claimed that Australia deliberately obstructed negotiations because the existing arrangement benefited Australia financially. This dispute remains unresolved.


Currently three foreign banks have a branch each in Dili: ANZ, Banco Nacional Ultramarino, and Bank Mandiri.


Main article: Demographics of East Timor

The people of East Timor, known collectively as the Maubere, an originally derogatory name that was turned into a name of pride by the resistance movement, consists of a number of distinct ethnic groups, most of which are of Malay descent and some of older Papuan stock. There is also a small ethnic Chinese minority. In common with other former Portuguese colonies, where intermarriage between races was widely accepted, there are also small numbers of mixed race people, known in Portuguese as Mestiço. The best-known East Timorese Mestiço internationally, is José Ramos Horta, spokesman for the resistance movement in exile, now Foreign Minister, while Mário Viegas Carrascalão , Indonesia's appointed governor between 1987 and 1992, is also Mestiço.

The population is predominantly Roman Catholic (90%), with sizable Muslim (5%) and Protestant (3%) minorities. Smaller Hindu, Buddhist and animist minorities make up the remainder. Currently, there are about 800,000 citizens of East Timor.


Main article: Languages of East Timor

East Timor's two official languages are Portuguese and Tetum, a local Austronesian language. Indonesian and English are defined as working languages under the Constitution. Another fourteen indigenous languages are spoken: Bekais; Bunak; Dawan; Galoli; Habun; Idalaka; Kawaimina; Kemak; Lovaia; Makalero; Makasai; Mambai; Tokodede and Wetarese.

East Timor is a member of the CPLP, Community of Portuguese Language Countries, also known as the Portuguese-Speaking Commonwealth.


Main article: Culture of East Timor

The Culture of East Timor reflects numerous cultural influences, including Portuguese, Roman Catholic and Malay, on the indigenous Austronesian cultures in East Timor. Legend tells that a giant crocodile was transformed into the island of Timor, or Ilha do Crocodilo (Crocodile Island), as it is often called. Like Indonesia, the culture of East Timor is very influenced by these kinds of Austronesian legends. But in Timor, the Catholic mentality is more widely spread.

The population is mainly Roman Catholic but illiteracy is common. Despite that, some good poetry can be found in Timor. As for architecture, some Portuguese-style buildings can be found. Craftmanship is also very present.


Ergue o seu braço numa luta impotente, Destrói a flor que nasce, Escutou os seus passos que julgou serem multidões, Viu na escuridão vassalos, rendeu-se.

Mas o Homem não sabe chorar, vendeu seu rosto. Mas o Homem não sabe chorar, vendeu suas lágrimas.

E as estátuas também choram, E as pombas também choram, E os heróis também choram, E os homens também choram,

E os crocodilos também.


He raises his arm in an powerless fight, Destroys the new-born flower, Heard his steps but thought they were crouds, He saw in the darkness vassals, he surrendered himself.

But Mankind does not know how to cry, he sold his face. But Mankind does not know how to cry, he sold his tears.

And the statues also cry, And the doves also cry, And heroes also cry, And men also cry,

And crocodiles too.

See also: Music of East Timor

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Last updated: 09-03-2005 18:37:12