East Timor
Capital: Dili
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After a long and arduous struggle against occupying forces, East Timor finally realised its dream of independence in May 2002. It is one of the world's smallest and poorest nations and faces great challenges in rebuilding its infrastructure and strengthening its civil administration.
Full country name: Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste
Population: 1.0 million
Languages: Portuguese, Tetum, English, Indonesian
Religion: Christian
Life expectancy: 50 years (women), 49 years (men)
Literacy: 48 per cent
Capital: Dili
Total land area: 14,874 square kilometres
Border countries: Indonesia
Political Status: Republic
Head of State: President Xanana Gusmao
Head of Government: Prime Minister Jose Ramos-Horta
Currency: US dollar

  • East Timor faces the task of rebuilding after much of its infrastructure was destroyed by pro-Indonesian militia groups after the East Timorese voted for independence in 1999.

  • Unemployment is high, with about 50 per cent of East Timorese jobless.

  • East Timor faces the challenge of repatriating a large refugee population, mainly from neighbouring West Timor.

  • Reconciliation with Indonesia continues. Efforts to prosecute those responsible for violence after the 1999 referendum have been hampered by Indonesia's refusal to hand over a number of suspects for trial in East Timor.

The Portuguese invaded the island of Timor in the early 16th century and used it as a trading post. By the early 1700s the island was divided between the Portuguese, who took the east, and the Dutch in the west.

In 1975 a new government in Portugal relinquished all its overseas territories, to quell domestic frustration over costly wars against independence fighters in a number of its African territories. East Timor responded by declaring independence on 27 November, 1975. But independence was shortlived.

Indonesian forces invaded the island just 10 days later and East Timor was incoporated into Indonesia, becoming its 27th province in July 1976. The international community did little to protest against the invasion.

The main East Timorese independence movement, FRETILIN, began a rebel campaign to oust the Indonesians, putting up strong resistance. However, Indonesian repression over the next 25 years had a devastating effect, killing as many as 100,000 East Timorese.

In 1990, up to 180 East Timorese were killed in what became known as the Dili massacre, when Indonesian soldiers fired on mourning protestors at the Santa Cruz cemetary. The massacre attracted international attention and resulted in a US freeze on military aid to Indonesia.

The resistance movement suffered a setback in 1992 when FRETILIN leader Xanana Gusmao was captured and imprisoned.

East Timor's Catholic Bishop Carlos Felipe Belo and exiled resistance leader Jose Ramos-Horta won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996. This helped raise international awareness of East Timor's struggle for independence.

But it wasn't until the 1999 Asian economic crisis and the fall of Indonesia's former president Suharto that international pressure began taking effect. In June 1999, Indonesian President BJ Habibie announced a referendum would be held in East Timor, which would allow the East Timorese to choose between independence or autonomy within Indonesia.

The referendum was held on August 20, 1999. Seventy-eight per cent of the people voted for independence. The result triggered a campaign of terror by pro-Indonesian militia groups, with widespread looting, burning of houses and villages and the killing of up to 1,500 East Timorese. Within three weeks of the referendum, all major buildings in the capital, Dili, were destroyed and hundreds of thousands of people were displaced.

Under United Nations pressure, Jakarta accepted a 7,500 foreign peacekeeping force, led by Australia, to East Timor. It took several months for the peacekeepers to stop the unrest and begin to re-establish order.

In October 1999, Xanana Gusmao was released from jail and the UN set up the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET).

International donors pledged $US520 million in aid to rebuild East Timor.

East Timor finally celebrated its independence on May 20, 2002. Relations between East Timor and Indonesia have since eased considerably.

Trouble returned to East Timor in 2006. The unrest through April and May involved fighting between rival security force factions and ethnic gangs, leading to the deaths of at least 21 people and forcing about 150,000 people from their homes. It had its origins in the sacking of about 600 soldiers, who had deserted their barracks complaining of discrimination. A number of countries sent troops to the country to help ease the situation. Calm was largely restored after the then-prime minister, Mari Alkatiri, who was behind the sackings, stepped down.

Earlier in 2006, after extensive negotiations, Australia and East Timor signed a treaty to share the revenue from the main oil and gas field in the Timor Sea. The deal means each country will take half the revenue from the Greater Sunrise Field. Negotiations on a final maritime border between the two countries will be delayed for up to 50 years.
East Timor achieved formal independence from Indonesia on 20 May, 2002.

East Timor has one house of parliament composed of 88 members, who are elected by popular vote to serve five-year terms. Thirteen members of the parliament represent East Timor's 13 districts, and 75 are allocated according to a proportional representation system.

East Timor's first democratic legislative election was held in August 2001. The FRETILIN party won the poll, taking 55 seats. In April 2002 East Timor's first presidential election was held. The country's respected resistance leader, Xanana Gusmao, won overwhelmingly.

Presidential elections were held again in 2007. Jose Ramos Horta won the second-round vote on May 9, and was sworn in as the new nation's second president on 20 May, 2007.
East Timor's economy is still developing and almost all of its 800,000 citizens depend on subsistence farming or fishing to survive. It relies heavily on international aid.

East Timor grows food crops including coffee, rice, corn, coconut and cloves.

On January 12, 2006, Australia and East Timor signed a maritime treaty, under which East Timor stands to earn billions of dollars from vast oil and gas fields in the Timor Sea.

East Timor is a member of the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and the Non-Aligned Movement. The new nation has expressed interest in membership of ASEAN and the ASEAN Regional Forum.
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