East Timor

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East Timor

(tē`môr) or


(–lĕsh`tā), Tetum Timor Lorosae, republic, officially Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste (2015 est. pop. 1,241,000), 5,950 sq mi (15,410 sq km), in the Lesser Sundas, Malay Archipelago, off the SE Asia mainland. The country occupies the somewhat narrower, eastern half of TimorTimor
[Malay,=east], island (1990 est. pop. 3,900,000), c.13,200 sq mi/34,200 sq km, largest and easternmost of the Lesser Sundas, in the Malay Archipelago. Timor is divided politically between Indonesia and East Timor (Timor-Leste).
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 island, the exclave of Ambeno (or Oecussi) on the northwest coast of Timor, and offshore islands. DiliDili
, city (2002 est. pop. 49,900), capital of East Timor. on the N coast of Timor, on Ombai Strait. Dili is the largest city and chief port and commercial center of East Timor. Soap, perfume, and pottery are produced, and coffee is processed.
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, on the north coast, is the capital and largest city, as well as the country's main port. Other large cities include Dare, outside Dili, and Baucau, the site of the main airport, on the northeast coast. The terrain is largely hilly and mountainous, reaching its highest point on Mt. Tatamailau (6,562 ft/2,963 m). A large remnant of tropical forest at the E tip of Timor island is a national park.

People and Economy

The inhabitants are predominantly of Malay, Polynesian, and Papuan descent; there is a Chinese minority. The vast majority of the people are Roman Catholic, and there are small numbers of Muslims and Protestants. Portuguese and Tetum, the main local language, are official languages. Although Portuguese is no longer widely spoken, since independence it has been reintroduced into the government, courts, and schools. English and Bahasa Indonesia are "working languages," and there are about 16 indigenous languages.

Although East Timor, whose economy is largely agricultural, was one of the world's poorest nations at independence, it has offshore oil and gas fields in the Timor Gap off East Timor's southern coast that are under development and have begun to produce revenue. Nonetheless, unemployment, estimated at 50%, remains a significant problem. Coffee (the main export), rice, corn, cassava, sweet potatoes, soybeans, cabbage, mangoes, bananas, and vanilla orchids are grown, and stretches of grassland support cattle. Industry is limited to printing, light manufacturing, and the production of handicrafts and woven cloth. Coffee, sandalwood, and marble are among East Timor's exports, and food, gasoline, kerosene, and machinery are imported. Most trade is with Indonesia, although natural gas is piped to Australia.


East Timor is governed under the constitution of 2002. The president, who is head of state, is popularly elected and may serve two five-year terms. The government is headed by the prime minister, who is appointed by the president. Members of the unicameral National Parliament are elected by popular vote for five-year terms. The number of seats can vary from 52 to 65. Administratively, the country is divided into 13 districts.


The Portuguese visited Timor in the early 16th cent. and were the first Europeans to establish themselves in Timor, at Lifau in what is now Ambeno in 1556. Their claim to the island was disputed by the Dutch, who arrived in 1613. By a treaty of 1859, modified in 1893 and finally made effective in 1914, the border between the Dutch and Portuguese territories was settled. The colonial powers exploited the island's sandalwood, which was largely exhausted by the early 1900s. In World War II, Timor was occupied (early 1942) by the Japanese. In 1950, Dutch Timor and the rest of the surrounding Dutch East Indies became the Republic of IndonesiaIndonesia
, officially Republic of Indonesia, republic (2015 est. pop. 258,162,000), c.735,000 sq mi (1,903,650 sq km), SE Asia, in the Malay Archipelago. The fourth most populous country in the world, Indonesia comprises more than 15,000 islands extending c.
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In 1975, when Portugal's former colonies were being granted independence, fighting broke out between rival independence parties in Portuguese Timor. The leftist Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor (FRETILIN) triumphed, and on November 28th FRETILIN established the Democratic Republic of East Timor, with Francisco Xavier do Amaral as its president. Nine days later, Indonesia invaded and claimed sovereignty, administering the area as Timor Timur province, but the annexation was not accepted internationally. The population was decimated by food shortages, disease, and military violence, with perhaps as many as 120,000 people dying by 1979. Sporadic warfare with FRETILIN guerrillas continued, and in Aug., 1998, Indonesia and Portugal reached an agreement that would give East Timor the right to local self-government. Indonesia was reluctant to withdraw its forces, however, and talks broke down.

In Mar., 1999, Portugal and Indonesia agreed to let the East Timorese choose between autonomy within Indonesia or independence. Indonesia expected to win ratification of its rule, but in August, in a UN-supervised referendum, voters chose independence. The territory descended into chaos as pro-Indonesian militias and the army engaged in a campaign of terror and brutality, killing supporters of independence, looting and burning buildings, and causing thousands to flee their homes. In September, after intense international pressure, Indonesia asked the United Nations to send a peacekeeping force to East Timor. In October, the United Nations agreed to assume the administration and defense of East Timor, which became a non-self-governing territory. Although Indonesia tried some officials and security personnel in connection with the violence, all ultimately were acquitted or had their convictions overturned.

A constituent assembly, charged with writing a constitution for East Timor, was elected in Sept., 2001. In Apr., 2002, José Alexandre "Xanana" Gusmão (later known as Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão), a former guerrilla leader, defeated Xavier do Amaral for the presidency, and the following month East Timor became an independent nation. FRETILIN won a majority of seats in the parliament, and Mari Alkatiri became prime minister.

An agreement resolving most border issues was signed with Indonesia in 2005; peacekeeping forces were withdrawn the same year.

Oil and gas fields in the waters between East Timor and Australia made the settlement of their ocean boundary contentious, but in an agreement signed in 2006 East Timor postponed settlement of the issue for 50 years in exchange for an increased percentage of oil and gas revenues. East Timor, however, later contested that agreement, and after the Permanent Court of Arbitration agreed in 2016 to take the case, East Timor and Australia established (2018, ratified 2019) their ocean boundary midway between them, giving East Timor control over greater subsea resources.

In Jan., 2006, a report by an independent truth and reconciliation commission concerning the effects of Indonesia's occupation of East Timor, including an estimate of up to 183,000 deaths as a result of Indonesia's policies, was submitted to the United Nations, drawing protests from and chilling relations with Indonesia. Soldiers from W East Timor struck in Feb., 2006, over pay and perceived bias against them as westerners (generally regarded as more pro-Indonesian); in March some 600 soldiers were dismissed as a result. Protests by the former soldiers spiraled into rioting in April and gang violence in May, as former soldiers fought supporters of Prime Minister Alkatiri, whose resignation the soldiers demanded. Foreign peacekeepers returned to East Timor in late May, but stability was slow to be restored to the country, and some 150,000 were displaced as a result of the violence. East Timorese police did not fully resume responsibility for the country's security until Mar., 2011; the last international forces withdrew at the end of 2012. In June, 2006, Alkatiri, under pressure, finally agreed to resign, but the situation remained somewhat unsettled, and there was concern over possible long-term tensions between W and E Timorese.

José Ramos-HortaRamos-Horta, José,
1949–, East Timorese independence advocate and political leader; co-recipient, with Carlos Belo, of the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize. After engaging in anti-Portuguese activities, he went into exile (1970–72) in Mozambique.
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, the former foreign minister and co-winner of the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize, was appointed prime minister in July. In 2007 presidential election, Ramos-Horta defeated Francisco Guterres, the FRETILIN candidate, after a runoff in May. June legislative elections left no party in control; In August, Gusmão became prime minister of a coalition government, and FRETILIN, which had won the largest number of votes, went into opposition. Unrest in FRETILIN-dominated areas followed the government's establishment.

In Feb., 2008, in either a botched double assassination or kidnapping attempt, rebels seriously wounded the president; the prime minister escaped unharmed. The rebel leader surrendered to government forces in April. In July, 2008, a joint Indonesian–East Timorese truth commission blamed Indonesian forces and, to a minor degree, East Timorese independence forces for the violence in 1999. The Apr., 2012, presidential runoff election was won by Taur Matan Ruak, the former military chief running as an independent; he defeated Guterres. In July, Gusmão's National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) won a plurality of the seats in parliament and formed a coalition government. Gusmão remained prime minister, serving in the office until he resigned in Feb., 2015.

The CNRT proposed FRETILIN's Rui Maria de Araújo as Gusmão's successor; he headed a government of national unity. In Mar., 2017, Guterres was again FRETILIN's presidential candidate and won the office in the first round. In the July parliamentary elections, FRETILIN won a plurality, and formed (October) a minority coalition with the smaller Democratic party; Mari Alkatiri became prime minister. In Jan., 2018, however, the new government fell after it failed to win passage of its policy program and budget. Elections in May resulted in a win for the Alliance for Change and Progress (AMP), which included the CNRT and Ruak's People's Liberation party (PLP); Ruak subsequently became prime minister. Ruak resigned in Feb., 2020, after failing to pass a budget, but reversed his resignation in April in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved. www.cc.columbia.edu/cu/cup/

East Timor

a small country in SE Asia, comprising part of the island of Timor: colonized by Portugal in the 19th century; declared independence in 1975 but immediately invaded by Indonesia; under UN administration from 1999 and an independent state from 2002. It is mountainous with a monsoon climate; subsistence agriculture is the main occupation. Languages: Portuguese, Tetun (a lingua franca), and Bahasa Indonesia. Religion: Roman Catholic majority. Currency: US dollar. Capital: Dili. Pop.: 820 000 (2004 est.). Area: 14 874 sq. km (5743 sq. miles)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in periodicals archive ?
The prominence of the myth of return in the exiles' imaginations is not unique to the East Timorese. In fact, ideas about the homeland and an ideology, or a myth, of return to the homeland, are inscribed into most definitions of exile (e.g., Gready 1994; Said 2000) and diaspora (e.g., King and Christou 2010; Leavey, Sembhi, and Livingston 2004; Phillips and Potter 2009; Safran 1991).
''A new East Timorese president must carry a principle to lift his or her people up from poverty,'' the 37-year-old unemployed man said.
There are two striking features about the East Timorese diaspora: the extent to which their collective fight to free East Timor from Indonesian occupation figured in their collective imagination and the number of symbiotic political alliances developed with the "outside".
Renato Martino, Vatican observer at the UN, read a message from the Pope urging the East Timorese to build a righteous, free, and peaceful society "based on values without which no real democracy exists: respect for life and every person, and real solidarity."
Ward, Carlton and Lowe emphasised the importance of ensuring that the East Timorese leaders were fully advised before they entered any agreement, even a provisional one, and that they were aware of their right to an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
While East Timor is heading toward full independence, an estimated 80,000 East Timorese are believed to be still living in poor sanitary conditions at refugee camps in West Timor.
The members were met by East Timorese independence hero Xanana Gusmao.
Many rights activists who have worked to bring freedom and justice to East Timor are now calling for an international tribunal, one that can provide full justice for the East Timorese. We join that call.
Hyland was at the forefront of the campaign to raise awareness of the East Timorese people's plight.
In late January 1999, President Habibie decided to let the East Timorese have independence in early 2000 if they refused a Jakarta offer of wide-ranging autonomy.
Since 1975, more than 200,000 East Timorese have been killed by Indonesians.

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