The island of Timor, during the recent ice age, was one
of the most important land areas over which Australia was
populated some 50,000 years ago. While Australia and New
Guinea formed a contiguous land area, the Sahul, as well as
the Indonesian island world with Southeast Asia, Timor
remained an island due to the deeper, surrounding waters,
Wallacea. In order to get to Sahul, the first people have to
cross a 90 km wide sound, which means that some kind of
sea-going craft was used so early. Root fruit growing
farmers established themselves in Timor in the 3000s BC,
with significant bargains in i.a. Bui Ceri Uato and Lie Siri
in East Timor.
The island of Timor was first visited by Portuguese
seafarers in the early 16th century. However, no permanent
settlement was established until 1642. See
abbreviationfinder for geography, history, society, politics, and economy of East Timor. The current capital Dili was founded in 1769. The stubborn Timorese resistance
to the Portuguese presence reached its peak with the 1910-12
uprising led by Dom Boaventura.
Only after the suppression of this uprising did Portugal
succeed in creating an administrative unit of the entire
territory. The border with the West Timor ruled by the
Netherlands was established in 1914. During most of the 20th
century, East Timor was largely isolated from the outside
world. The major exception was 1942and45, when East Timor
was occupied by Japan. Dili was repeatedly bombed by Allied
air forces and almost completely destroyed.
After World War II, Dili was rebuilt and an increasing
proportion of the native elite's children had to undergo
schooling. A few of these were offered to study further at
universities in Portugal. It was among this young, native
elite that during the early 1970s thoughts of independence
arose. Since the old regime in Portugal was overthrown in a
peaceful revolution in 1974, a number of political parties
were formed in East Timor.
The two largest parties, Fretilin and UDT, advocated
independence, while Apodeti worked for integration with
Indonesia. At the same time, Indonesia launched the
so-called Operasi Komodo ('Operation Dragon'), whose aim was
to incorporate East Timor with Indonesia through a
combination of political and military means.
Influenced by threats and promises from Indonesia, the
UDT launched a coup against Fretilin in August 1975. This
led to a brief but bloody civil war that ended with the loss
of the UDT troops.
Faced with the threat of an impending Indonesian
invasion, East Timor declared independence on November 28,
1975. A few nations were able to recognize the new state
formation before East Timor was invaded by Indonesia on
December 7, 1975. Fretilin retreated to the mountains and
began successfully under his armed branch Falintil.
In June 1976, East Timor was formally annexed as
Indonesia's 27th province by the government of Jakarta, an
annexation never recognized by the UN. Occupation time
became one of the greatest human disasters in modern
history. Human rights organizations estimate that up to
200,000 people have died as a direct or indirect consequence
of the intensive warfare in 1975-79.
From 1981, the resistance under Xanana Gusmão was
reorganized to involve large sections of the civilian
population. A complicated network united the residents of
villages and towns with the armed guerrillas in the
mountains, and this network then contacted a small number of
East Timorese politicians in exile, the most famous of which
is Jos谷 Ramos-Horta.
The armed resistance was given an increasingly symbolic
role. It also got the Catholic Church, whose membership
increased from 28 percent of the population in 1973 to 81
percent in 1989. For many East Timorese, becoming a Catholic
meant reinforcing one's own identity vis-角-vis the
predominantly Muslim Indonesia. Since East Timor was opened
to foreign visitors in 1989, the resistance was often
manifested in demonstrations.
On such an occasion in Dili on November 12, 1991, a large
number of protesters were massacred by police and military.
This was filmed by a foreign journalist. The film caused
great consternation when it was shown on TV worldwide and
led to the East Timor issue, ie. the conflict over East
Timor's political affiliation, for the first time received a
great deal of international attention. This attention
culminated when Ramos-Horta and East Timor's Catholic
bishop, Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo, jointly received the
Nobel Peace Prize in 1996.
The external pressure on the Indonesian government to
seek a solution to the conflict grew stronger, and since
Suharto resigned as president in May 1998, events followed
closely. Under its new president, Bacharuddin Jussuf
Habibie, Indonesia signed an agreement on 5 May 1999 with
Portugal and the UN on the forms of referendum.
On August 30, 1999, 78.5 percent of East Timorans voted
for independence. As a result, the pro-Indonesian militia,
supported and armed by the Indonesian military, launched an
extensive wave of violence, killing more than 1,000 people
and destroying 70% of East Timor's infrastructure.
Over 250,000 of the population fled across the border to
West Timor. Following international pressure, Indonesia
accepted the presence of an international force, which
quickly restored calm. Under UN supervision, a legislative
assembly could then be elected on August 30, 2001. Xanana
Gusmão was elected president on April 14, 2002. By then,
about 200,000 of the refugees had returned to East Timor. On
May 20, 2002, East Timor gained formal independence.
Developments in the new nation, one of Asia's poorest,
have since been characterized by slow economic growth,
fueled by political crises. In March 2006, a third of the
country's military forces were dismissed after protesting
against perceived regional discrimination.
Parts of the country's military and police forces took
sides for either party in the conflict, resulting in armed
fighting. The crisis spread to the street level after armed
youth gangs attacked each other and burned a large number of
houses, mainly in the capital Dili. The violence resulted in
over 100,000 Timorians becoming internally displaced, most
in UNHCR-administered camps in Dili.
Xanana Gusmão declared a state of emergency and Prime
Minister Mari Alkatiri resigned; the Minister of the
Interior and the Minister of Defense were dismissed. Jos谷
Ramos-Horta assumed the position of Prime Minister.
Ramos-Horta and Gusmão had to change roles in 2007 since
Ramos-Horta won the presidential election in May and Gusmão
became prime minister after a contentious parliamentary
election, with Fretilin becoming the single largest party
but where Gusmão represented a coalition of parties that
together received a majority of the votes.
The difficult government formation gave rise to unrest,
and the dissatisfaction within Fretilin was great. In
February 2008, Ramos-Horta and Gusmão were subjected to
attempted murder in an alleged coup attempt. Gusmão did
well, but Ramos-Horta was badly injured. During the hunt for
the assailants, a new state of emergency was introduced in
the country. After care in Australia, Ramos-Horta could
return to the presidency.
In March 2012, presidential elections were held, and
Ramos-Horta ran for re-election. However, he lost already in
the first round of elections. The winner of the election was
former defense chief Taur Matan Ruak. He took office in May
of that year.
The UN peacekeeping forces left the country in 2012, and
the 2017 presidential election became the first to be held
without its presence. Former Guerrilla soldier Francisco
Guterres won the presidential election and took office May