East Timor History

East Timor History

Archaeological finds point to human life on the island of Timor as early as the Stone Age. In the first half of the 16th century, Portuguese seafarers took possession of parts of the island. The entire Indonesian archipelago (over 13,000 islands) was of economic interest to the European colonial powers due to its abundance of spices, which were traded at top prices in Europe. On Timor, sandalwood, coffee, copra and obsidian were available as valuable goods for the colonial masters. Portugal had to deal primarily with the Dutch United East India Company (VOC), which became the dominant colonial power in Indonesia in the 17th century. In an agreement signed in 1895, the two powers agreed to divide the island of Timor into western territory, which passed into Dutch ownership, and an eastern one that was to remain a Portuguese colony until 1975.

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During the Second World War, the island of Timor was occupied by Japanese troops. After their withdrawal, the Portuguese administration was reinstated in the eastern part of the island. In 1951 East Timor was declared the Portuguese overseas province. After the “Carnation Revolution” in 1974 in Portugal, the eastern part of the island was released to independence. Three political groups faced each other in East Timor: the more bourgeois-conservative “União Democr¨¢tica Timorese” (Democratic Union Timors, UDT), the “Associação Popular Democr¨¢tica Timorense” (APODETI) and the left-wing “Frente Revolucion¨¢ria de Timor-Leste Independente “” (Revolutionary Front for East Timor’s Independence, FRETILIN), which was founded in 1974. The UDT wanted to keep close to Portugal, APODETI sought connection to Indonesia with partial autonomy in East Timor; FRETILIN, led by Jos¨¦ Alexandre (“Xanana”) Gusmao, fought for the country’s independence from both the former colonial power and Indonesia.

A civil war broke out between supporters of the individual parties after the hasty withdrawal of colonial troops, which left a power vacuum in East Timor. The dominant FRETILIN declared independence of the provisional Republic of East Timor under the leadership of President Nicolau Lobato in November 1975. But only a short time later Indonesian troops marched into East Timor. The Indonesian troops encountered fierce resistance, particularly among the approximately 7,000 supporters of the FRETILIN military arm, the “Liberation Army for East Timor” (FALANTIL). The majority of the population refused to join Indonesia. According to AbbreviationFinder, the Indonesian army deliberately destroyed villages and towns, the population was forcibly relocated. The national language T¨¦tum was banned. In 1976 East Timor was formally annexed by Indonesia and declared one of the Indonesian provinces. The UN did not recognize the annexation and from then on treated East Timor as a “territory without its own government”. The international legal responsibility for the country was seen with the former colonial power Portugal. Even the western community of states did not recognize the annexation of East Timor, but tolerated it due to the existing economic interests in raw material-rich Indonesia. Only Australia officially recognized the annexation, and here too economic interests were in the foreground (rich oil deposits that were shared with Indonesia). During the occupation of East Timor by the Indonesian army, some 200,000 people lost their lives in the 20-year liberation struggle.

In 1992, FRETILIN leader Gusmão was arrested and sentenced to 20 years in prison, but opposition to the Indonesian occupation continued unabated. In 1996, two supporters of the resistance movement, Bishop Carlos Belo and Jos¨¦ Ramos-Horta, co-founders of FRETILIN and their representative at the UN, were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their services. This brought the East Timor conflict back into the light of the world public. A turning point emerged when the Indonesian head of state Jusuf Habibie approved a referendum in East Timor, which was monitored by the UN, in 1999. The military presence in East Timor placed a heavy burden on Indonesia’s budget, weakened by the ongoing economic crisis,

At the end of August 1999, despite the reprisals by the pro-Indonesian militias, which were supported by the Indonesian military, around 78% of East Timora’s population spoke in favor of their country’s independence and against an autonomous East Timor within Indonesia, as Habibie had offered. As a result, a large number of acts of terrorism by pro-Indonesian militias against the country’s population occurred, causing numerous Timorese to die again. Around 250,000 residents fled to neighboring West Timor from the violence. In September 1999, the UN Security Council decided to deploy an UN force (International Force in East Timor, INTERFET) to restore security and peace in East Timor. Much of this force came from Australia. In October 1999, the Indonesian military approved East Timor’s independence. In the same month, rebel leader Gusmão was released after seven years in prison and returned to East Timor. It was only in February 2000 that the UN Security Force INTERFET was able to hand over the country to a UN peacekeeping force that set up a transitional administration (Transitional Administration in East Timor) and tried to help build the new state. This included the implementation of a census and the formation of a transitional parliament to draft a new constitution. Mari Alkatiri became head of the interim government. In the fall of 2000, East Timor took part in the Olympic Games in Sydney for the first time with its own team (consisting of four athletes).

At the end of August 2001, free elections to the constituent assembly were held for the first time in East Timor. 16 political parties and a large number of independent candidates stood for election, which was held under UN supervision. FRETILIN was able to assert itself as the dominant political force with 57.4%. The second strongest was the “Partido Democrat¨¢tico” with 8.7%, closely followed by the “Partido Social Democrata” with 8.2%. In April 2002, presidential elections were held in East Timor. The former freedom fighter and rebel leader Xanana Gusmão, who had been a clear favorite before the elections and won as a non-party winner, won with around 82.7% of the votes. The only opponent was the social democrat Francisco Xavier do Amaral. The turnout was estimated at 90%. On 20.East Timor was released in May 2002 after four and a half centuries of Portuguese colonial rule and around 25 years of Indonesian occupation.

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Serious unrest, which claimed 37 lives, shook East Timor in May 2006. Over 150,000 people were displaced. The reason was the dismissal of a large part of the army members who had previously deserted in protest against maladministration in the army. Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri announced his resignation on June 26. An “International Stabilization Force” (ISF) consolidated the situation again. In August 2006, the UN Security Council gave a comprehensive mandate to a new UN mission (UNMIT), which was extended in February 2007. The ISF led by Australia also remained in the country. In 2007, around 50,000 refugees still lived in camps.

Jos¨¦ Ramos-Horta, Nobel Peace Prize winner, became president in May 2007. FRETILIN suffered heavy losses in the parliamentary elections in June 2007, but remained the strongest political force in Parliament with 21 out of 65 seats. However, the Prime Minister (ex-President Xanana Gusmão) was represented by the “Congress of the Timorian Reconstruction” (CNRT; founded by Gusmão), which together with the Democrats (PD) and the Social Democrats (ASDT / PSD) formed the government alliance “Alliance of Parliamentary Majorities” (AMP) formed (37 seats). FRETILIN refused to recognize the government alliance.

In February 2008, rebels carried out attacks on Gusmão and Ramos-Horta. While the prime minister was unharmed, Ramos-Horta was hit hard by three shots but survived. Since then, the security situation in Timor-Leste has been stabilized and the young state strengthened. The presidential and parliamentary elections in May and July 2012 were peaceful. President has been Taur Matan Ruak since May 2012, former military commander-in-chief of East Timor’s defense forces; Gusmão is again the head of a coalition government.

In November 2012, the ISF stabilization force ended its service in Timor-Leste. The mandate of the UN mission UNMIT expired at the end of 2012.

East Timor President