History and Government

History : In May 2002, after 450 years of continuous foreign occupation, East Timor became the world’s newest independent state. The island of Timor lies towards the eastern end of the chain of Indonesian islands running from Malaya, through Sumatra and Java, to new Guinea. The island is divided into two parts. Most of the western half remains part of Indonesia. The eastern half forms the bulk of the national territory of Timor, with its capital, Dili, on the northern coast, a small enclave in the western half around the town of Oecussi, and the small island of Atauro, 30km (19 miles) north of Dili.

The pre-occupation history of Timor is sketchy. The migration of various peoples along the South-East Asian monsoon track from northwest to southeast evidently led to the population of the island by a civilisation that had no written records but worked in iron and had a relatively sophisticated system of agriculture. The island was linked into a regional trading system centred on Java, which extended as far as China and India. The Portuguese first arrived on the island in the early 16th century and by the 1550s had occupied the eastern part. The Dutch took control of the western part, which became part of the Dutch East Indies and, after independence, Indonesia.

During World War II, Portugal, then governed by a fascist dictatorship, was formally neutral - a status which extended to its colonies. However, this did not prevent allied units from moving into East Timor at the end of 1941, apparently to pre-empt a Japanese invasion. The Japanese did indeed invade, in February 1942, defeating the combined Dutch/Australian forces and occupying the territory until its liberation in 1945. Portugal regained possession and remained in control until the 1974 Portuguese Revolution. In 1975, the new left-wing Portuguese government relinquished all of its colonies. East Timor then enjoyed just a few days of independence, before the Indonesians, who had long coveted the territory, annexed it as their 27th province. There was little local resistance and the international community largely acquiesced. The main Timorese independence movement, FRETILIN (Frente Revolucionario de Este Timor Independente), which was originally formed to fight the Portuguese, now had to gear up again to combat a new and even more brutal occupier. In the savage counter-insurgency campaign that followed, the Indonesian army killed over 100,000 East Timorese.

With the capture in 1992 of the legendary FRETILIN leader, Xanana Gusmão, the prospects for the movement appeared bleak. It was not until the 1997 Asian economic crisis and the subsequent removal of veteran Indonesian President Suharto (see Indonesia section) that the growing international criticism of the Indonesian campaign began to have some effect. In June 1999, President Habibie of Indonesia suddenly announced that a referendum would be held in East Timor, offering independence or autonomy within Indonesia. The referendum was held in August 1999 and 80 per cent opted for independence. By way of revenge, the Indonesian army, along with local militias that they had armed and financed, indulged in an orgy of destruction and killing that displaced hundreds of thousands of people and destroyed the territory’s already fragile economic base. (A truth and reconciliation commission, on the South African model, has since been set up to investigate the events of that period, and several senior Indonesians, including an army general, have since been convicted for complicity in human rights abuses.) In October 1999, a UN transitional administration (UNTAET) set up shop in East Timor, pending the conduct of national elections. In addition, Gusmão was released from prison. The assembly poll of August 2001 returned, as expected a majority of FRETILIN candidates; Mari Alkatiri, also of FRETILIN, assumed the premiership. The Presidency, contested in April 2002, was won by Xanana Gusmão, with a huge majority.

The fledgling Government looked to develop international contacts - with the UN, ASEAN and the South Pacific Forum – as quickly as possible. Membership of the IMF and World Bank was secured in July 2002, followed by accession to the UN in September. Relations with its two most powerful neighbours, Indonesia and Australia, are also a high priority (see Economy section). The new country faced a massive reconstruction task (see Economy section), and the government has found it difficult to deliver on many of its initial promises. By the end of 2002, there had been a number of violent confrontations between a frustrated populace and government security forces. The government has been supported by a residual UN force, now known as UNMISET (UN Mission in East Timor), which took over from UNTAET in May 2002.

East Timor is governed according to a constitution agreed between UNTAET and the provisional East Timorese government in March 2002. This allows for an 88-member Parliament, the Assembleia Constituinte, which holds legislative authority and is elected to serve a five-year term - 75 members are elected by proportional representation, the other 13 in single-seat constituencies. Executive power is vested in the President, who is also elected for a five-year term.

Back to the Top 


Information provided by East Timor Tourism Board.


Home | Bhutan | Brunei | Cambodia | China-Yunnan | East Timor | Hong Kong | India | Indonesia | Japan | Kazakstan | Korea | Kyrgystan | Laos | Malaysia Maldives | Mongolia | Myanmar | Nepal | Pakistan | Philippines | Singapore | Sri Lanka | Tajikistan | Taiwan | Thailand | Tibet | Turkmenistan | Vietnam Uzbekistan


Website partner : Asia-planet.com...Tours and Hotels around Asia.
Version Francaise : Planete-asie.com

Copyright © 2002 Orasia co.,ltd. (Asia-planet.net) All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission prohibited.