Look Back On: The Independence of East Timor

Things about East Timor.  

Here it is!

Where is is again?

East Timor (640km Northwest of Darwin) is the first new nation of this century and the third millennium – gaining independence on 20th May 2002.

It is one of the only two Asian countries to be predominantly Roman Catholic (the other is the Philippines).

It’s real name is Timor-Leste. It is 15,400 km in size

It is an island in the Indonesian archipelago, which is made up of approximately 17,000 islands. 8874 of these islands have been named.

It became a Portuguese colony in the 16th century, while the rest of Indonesia was mostly colonised by the Dutch.

Why was there so much unrest over there?

Well the Portuguese colony was invaded and occupied by Indonesia in 1975. This action was supported by the US and its allies (Australia included) as it was alleged that the East Timorese FRETLIN party was communist and a communist domino effect was feared for Southeast Asia. The period of Indonesian rule until 1999 was marked by brutality and violence. It has been reported that up to 200,000 East Timorese died through famine, disease and fighting.

The Dili massacre of 1991 in which 400 students were killed was a turning point for the East Timorese, with the oppressive Indonesian (under President Suharto) regime receiving widespread international condemnation and shame on the part of the nations who had previously supported Indonesia.

How was is resolved?

The UN stepped in and sponsored an agreement between new Indonesian President BJ Habibe, Portugal and the US to hold a referendum in August 1999. The East Timorese voted overwhelmingly in favour of independence and in response, militia loyal to Indonesia went on a rampage of murder and destruction. An Australian lead peacekeeping force (INTERFET) intervened to restore order. The militia fled across the border but attempted sporadic raids across that border (which was held by the New Zealand Army). Gradually, with help from international moral opinion, the militia dispersed and Indonesia withdrew tacit support. INTERFET was replaced by a UN police force and a unit was formed to investigate atrocities. In 2002, a previously stubborn Portugal agreed to recognise East Timor’s independence.

What has happened since?  

The rebuilding of East Timor has been one of  the UN’s success stories. UN forces left in 2005. However, poverty and unemployment fueled riots and gang violence in 2006 and a new UN peacekeeping force (UNMIT) was set up. This force remained until March 2011, when operational control of the police force was handed over to East Timor authorities. Upwards of 1,200 UN police still patrol the streets but this is scheduled to end once the 2012 presidential elections are over.

Let’s hope things settle down to something near peace then. Gawd we’re lucky aren’t we?



Categories: HistOracles

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1 reply


  1. Catch up on: 2014 EVENTS (SERIOUSLY) | megoracle

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