East Timor

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The Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste (otherwise known as East Timor or Timor Lorosae) is a young Australasian country located geographically in Oceania, although it is sometimes assigned to Asia instead (see Line dividing Asia and Oceania). It consists of the eastern half of the island of Timor, the nearby islands of Atauro and Jaco, and Oecussi-Ambeno, an exclave of East Timor situated on the northwestern side of the island, surrounded by West Timor.

Formerly Portuguese Timor, East Timor was invaded by Indonesia in 1975, which occupied it until 1999. Following the UN-sponsored act of self-determination that year, Indonesia relinquished control of the territory, which achieved full independence on May 20, 2002.

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

Repúblika Demokrátika Timor Lorosa'e
República Democrática de Timor-Leste
Flag of East Timor Coat of Arms of East Timor
(In Detail) (In Detail)
National motto: Honra, Pátria e Povo (Portuguese: Honor, Homeland, and People)
Location of East Timor
Official languages Tetum, Portuguese
Capital Dili
Largest city Dili
President Xanana Gusmao
Prime Minister Marí Alkatiri
 - Total
 - % water
Ranked 154th
15,007 km²
 - Total (2005)
 - Density
Ranked 153rd
 - Recognised
From Portugal
20 May 2002
Currency U.S. Dollar
centavo coins
Time zone UTC +9
National anthem Pátria
Internet TLD .tp (to change to .tl during 2005)
Calling code +670



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.

In late 1941 Portuguese Timor was briefly occupied by Dutch and Australian troops, who aimed to thwart a Japanese invasion of the island. The Portuguese Governor protested the invasion, and the Dutch forces returned to the Dutch side of the island. When the Japanese landed and drove the small Australian force out of Dili, the mountainous interior became the scene of a guerilla campaign, known as Battle of Timor, waged by Allied forces and Timorese volunteers against the Japanese. The struggle resulted in the deaths of between 40,000 and 70,000 Timorese. Following the end of the War, Portuguese control was reinstated.

The process of decolonisation in 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, despite Portugal being a NATO founding member.

The Indonesian invasion was launched over the western border on 16 October 1975. The day before the invasion of Dili and subsequent annexation, U.S. President Gerald Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger had met 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 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. Following a UN-sponsored agreement between Indonesia, Portugal and the US, on August 30, 1999, a United Nations-supervised popular referendum was held, 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 recognised by Portugal after a visit of Xanana Gusmão to Lisbon to choose the date. They decided 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 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 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 divided into 13 administrative districts:

Map of East Timor with cities
Map of East Timor with cities


Main article: Geography of East Timor

Timor is the Malay word for "east". The island of Timor is part of the Malay archipelago and the largest and easternmost of the Lesser Sunda Islands. To the north of the mountainous island are 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 is Dili, and the second-largest city 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 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, who was 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 petroleum and natural gas resources in the south-eastern 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. East Timor inherited no permanent maritime boundaries when it attained independence, and the Government of East Timor is seeking to negotiate a boundary with Australia 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. On July 7, 2005, an agreement was finally reached under which both countries would set aside the dispute over the maritime boundary, and East Timor would receive A$13 billion (US$9.65 billion) in revenue.


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

Note: East Timor is listed on the Per capita income page as the lowest in the world.


Main article: Demographics of East Timor

The Timorese are known collectively as Maubere, an originally derogatory name turned into a name of pride by the resistance movement. They consist of a number of distinct ethnic groups, most of whom are of mixed Malayo-Polynesian descent and Melanesian/Papuan stock. The largest Malayo-Polynesian ethnic groups are the Tetun (or Tetum) (100,000), primarily living in the north coast and around Dili, the Mambae (80,000), living in the mountains of central East Timor, the Tukudede (63,170), who are living in the area around Maubara and Liquisa, the Galoli (50,000) living between the tribes of Mambae and Makasae, Kemak (50,000) in north-central Timor island, and the Baikeno (20,000), living in the area around Pantemakassar. The main tribes of predominantly Papuan origin include the Bunak (50,000) living in Central interior Timor island, the Fataluku (30,000) living in the eastern tip of East Timor around Los Palos, and the Makasae living in the eastern end of the island. The Timorese are a racially mixed people composed of Melanesian and Malay genetic elements. In addition, in common with other former Portuguese colonies where interracial marriage was common, there is also smaller population of people of mixed Timorese and Portuguese origin, 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. 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 a million 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 in the Final and Transitional Provisions without setting a final date. Although the country has only about 1 million inhabitants, another fourteen indigenous languages are spoken: Bekais, Bunak, Dawan, Fataluku, Galoli, Habun, Idalaka, Kawaimina, Kairui, Kemak, Lovaia, Makalero, Makasai, Mambai, Tetun-Terik, Tokodede and Wetarese.

Under Indonesian rule, the use of Portuguese was banned, but it was used by the clandestine resistance, especially in communicating with the outside world. The language gained importance as a symbol of resistance and freedom, along with Tetum, as a way of differentiating the country from its neighbours, and as a link to nations in other parts of the world. It is now being restored as an official language, with the help of Brazil and Portugal. It is now spoken by 25% of the population (the number more than doubled in the last 5 years), although this growth has sometimes met with hostility from younger Indonesian-educated people who feel at a disadvantage. East Timor is a member of the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP), also known as the Lusophone Commonwealth, and a member of the Latin Union.


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 of Timor. Legend tells that a giant crocodile was transformed into the island of Timor, or Crocodile Island, as it is often called. Like Indonesia, the culture of East Timor has been heavily influenced by Austronesian legends, although the Catholic influence is stronger, the population being mainly Roman Catholic.

Illiteracy is still widespread, but there is a strong tradition of poetry, President Xanana Gusmão being a distinguished poet. As for architecture, some Portuguese-style buildings can be found, although the traditional totem houses of the eastern region, known as uma lulik also survive. Craftmanship is also widespread, as is the weaving of traditional scarves or tais.

See also: Music of East Timor

Public Holidays

East Timor now has public holidays that commemorate historic events in the liberation struggle, as well as those associated with the Catholic faith.

Date Name Observations
1 January New Year's Day
March/April Good Friday
March/April Easter Sunday
May 20 Independence Day 2002
August 15 Assumption
August 30 Consultation Day Anniversary of the Popular Consultation in 1999
September 20 Liberation Day by INTERFET in 1999
November 1 All Saints' Day
November 12 Santa Cruz Day Anniversary of the Santa Cruz massacre in 1991
December 8 Immaculate Conception
December 25 Christmas .

Miscellaneous topics

External links

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