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East Timor

Find out more about East Timor—the youngest nation in the world.

Submitted 11/10/2005 By laners531 Views 286810 Comments 6 Updated 12/9/2008

Photographer : Wikimedia Commons

East Timor’s troubled past

The nation of Timor-Leste (or East Timor, as it is more popularly known) is tiny, but it has a massive history filled with bloodshed and conquest.

The island of Timor was first colonised by the Portuguese in the late 16th century. In 1859, after trade relations with the Dutch led to violence on the island, the eastern half was separated from the western half.

After nearly 400 years as a colony, the East Timorese declared independence from Portugal on 28 April 1975. But the celebrations didn’t last long. Only nine days later, Indonesia invaded East Timor, and the island was fully incorporated as a province in 1976.

Two decades of massacres followed, as the East Timorese people fought for independence. On 30 August 1999, with the help of the United Nations, a popular referendum vote was held. An overwhelming 78% of East Timorese voted for independence.

Soon after, however, anti-independence militias supported by the Indonesian government began a “scorched earth” campaign, which killed 1,400 people and forced 300,000 from their homes.

On 20 September 1999, UN troops, led predominantly by Australians, finally quelled the violence—at least for the moment. Two years after the first referendum, on 30 August 2001, the first ever democratic elections were held in East Timor. Xanana Gusmao was elected as the first president.

On 20 May 2002, Timor-Leste became the newest internationally recognised independent state.

Until 28 April 2006, East Timor was praised by politicians and aid workers for its smooth transition into statehood. Then, on 28 April, riots broke out in the capital city of Dili. The riots began as protests by former soldiers who claimed that they were discriminated against by their officers and unlawfully sacked.

The violence was subdued by Timorese troops, but only temporarily. It was reignited on 23 May when another person was killed in Dili. Australia has deployed between 1,000 and 1,300 troops to the country in an attempt to make peace, though many believe the country is on the verge of civil war.

Over several days 101 people were detained by police, five people were killed, and it is estimated that 21,000 people fled the city of Dili.


Australia-East Timor relations

Australia shares a lot of history with East Timor, mostly because they are such close neighbours. East Timor is located just 400 miles north of Darwin, NT. This proximity made East Timor a fine launching pad for Japanese attacks on Darwin during World War II. While Japanese troops invaded the island the East Timorese fought fiercely, not only for themselves, but for the fate of Australians. It is argued that if East Timor had been fully occupied by the Japanese, the damage done in air raids to Darwin and other northern Australian cities would have been much worse.

Australia and East Timor share the stretch of water between the two countries—the Timor Sea. In 1991 the Timor Gap Treaty was put into effect, stating that the seabed could be exploited by both countries for petroleum. In 2002, the treaty was refined, giving the developing nation of Timor-Leste the rights over 90% of all the petroleum produced from the area.

The current state

In an act to overthrow the government, in February 2008, rebel members of the community attempted to assassinate President Jose Ramos-Horta and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao. The President suffered multiple gunshot wounds and underwent surgery in Darwin. The Prime Minister escaped an attack on his car, unharmed. The rebel leader, Alfredo Reinado was killed by the government officials during the attacks.


East Timor remains one of the world’s poorest nations, and the poorest country in east Asia. Only 60% of East Timorese can read and write; the average life expectancy is 67; an estimated one-in-ten children will die before the age of five.


However, hopes and plans for a brighter democratic future are on the way with the help of international parties. Plans were settled between Australia and East Timor  in August 2008 to develop a 5.7 million dollar training facility for the East Timorese Defence force and 2.5 million dollar crop growing program.


Since October 2008, approximately 650 Australian peace-keeping troops remain in East Timor.

How do I know this?

ABC News, "Troop drawdown 'not aimed at boosting Afghan role',"


ABC News, "Australia to provide training for E Timor workers,"


Agreements, Treaties and Negotiated Settlements Project, Timor Gap Treaty,

ANTARA News, “East Timor has returned to calm after deadly unrest”

CIA, The World Factbook, East Timor,

CNN International, Foreign troops head to East Timor,

CNN International, Two Killed in East Timor Riots,

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australia-East Timor maritime arrangements,

Oxfam Australia, The future of East Timor,

Times Online, "Stand-off in East Timor after 'coup plotters' shoot President,"


Wikipedia Free Encyclopeida, Battle of Timor,

This page was written inconjunction with Rachelhiggi


This page was updated by ritamu

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JessB 04-Sep-2008




adrienne 17-Jan-2008

those stats on East Timor is terrible with 1 out of 10 children die before they are 5 and only 60% of the nation is literate. East Timor has been through so much devastation that it still needs a lot of help to get on its feet properly.



Michelle 26-May-2006

The mini series 'Answered by Fire' has actually been postponed until this Sunday (28th May!)...



Michelle 16-May-2006

For those who are interested, there is a mini-series starting on the ABC this Sunday (21st May) called 'Answered by Fire' which tells the story of the 1999 referendum, which led to East Timorese independance. It stars some amazing young East Timorese , many of whom lived through the events shown in the film and now live in Australia.

Check it out here:



Haylz B 21-Apr-2006

Yeh its great that there is mention of Timor!! - All money raised this year from World Vision's 40 Hour Famine is going to Timor this year - and there is a pretty cool section on Timor on Stir -

Yeh but it looks really good : )